Mediterranean grasslands are semi-natural, fire-prone, species-rich ecosystems that have been maintained for centuries through a combination of fire, grazing, and mowing. Over the past half century, however, grasslands have faced numerous threats, including the abandonment of traditional agro-pastoral practices. Our hypothesis was that mowing and prescribed burning are management practices potentially effective in counteracting the reduction of plant diversity triggered by land abandonment. However, the long-term effects of such management practices on plant communities and soil microbiota in Mediterranean grassland remain poorly studied. Here, we conducted a 5-year field experiment comparing prescribed fire, vegetation mowing, and abandonment in a fire-prone Mediterranean grassland in southern Italy in order to evaluate the capability of such management strategies to counteract the detrimental impacts of land abandonment on plant diversity and the associated increase of wildfire. We combined vegetation analysis and soil chemical characterization and several microbiota analyses, including microbial biomass and respiration, arthropod community, and high-throughput sequencing of bacterial and eukaryotic rRNA gene markers. Burning and mowing significantly increased plant species richness and diversity compared to abandonment plots, reducing the abundance of perennial tall grasses in favour of short-lived species. Standing litter followed the same trend, being 3.8-fold greater and largely composed of grass remains in the abandoned compared to burnt and mowed plots. In the soil, prescribed burning caused significant increase in pH, a reduction in organic carbon, total N, and cation exchange capacity. Diversity and taxonomic composition of bacterial and fungal microbiota was affected by burning and mowing treatments. Abandonment caused shifts of microbiota towards a fungal-dominated system, composed of late successional fungi of the Basidiomycota. Fast-growing and putative fungal pathogens were more abundant under burnt and mowed treatments. Soil arthropods were influenced by vegetation and microbiota changes, being strongly reduced in mowed plots. Our study demonstrated that grassland abandonment promotes the spread of tall grasses, reducing plant diversity and increasing the risk of wildfire, while prescribed burning and mowing are effective in counteracting such negative effects.

Impact of prescribed burning, mowing and abandonment on a Mediterranean grassland: A 5-year multi-kingdom comparison

Bonanomi, Giuliano
Primo
Writing – Original Draft Preparation
;
Motti, Riccardo
Validation
;
Ippolito, Francesca
Validation
;
Santorufo, Lucia
Formal Analysis
;
Adamo, Paola
Validation
;
Agrelli, Diana
Formal Analysis
;
De Marco, Anna
Formal Analysis
;
Maisto, Giulia
Penultimo
Formal Analysis
;
Zotti, Maurizio
Ultimo
Supervision
2022

Abstract

Mediterranean grasslands are semi-natural, fire-prone, species-rich ecosystems that have been maintained for centuries through a combination of fire, grazing, and mowing. Over the past half century, however, grasslands have faced numerous threats, including the abandonment of traditional agro-pastoral practices. Our hypothesis was that mowing and prescribed burning are management practices potentially effective in counteracting the reduction of plant diversity triggered by land abandonment. However, the long-term effects of such management practices on plant communities and soil microbiota in Mediterranean grassland remain poorly studied. Here, we conducted a 5-year field experiment comparing prescribed fire, vegetation mowing, and abandonment in a fire-prone Mediterranean grassland in southern Italy in order to evaluate the capability of such management strategies to counteract the detrimental impacts of land abandonment on plant diversity and the associated increase of wildfire. We combined vegetation analysis and soil chemical characterization and several microbiota analyses, including microbial biomass and respiration, arthropod community, and high-throughput sequencing of bacterial and eukaryotic rRNA gene markers. Burning and mowing significantly increased plant species richness and diversity compared to abandonment plots, reducing the abundance of perennial tall grasses in favour of short-lived species. Standing litter followed the same trend, being 3.8-fold greater and largely composed of grass remains in the abandoned compared to burnt and mowed plots. In the soil, prescribed burning caused significant increase in pH, a reduction in organic carbon, total N, and cation exchange capacity. Diversity and taxonomic composition of bacterial and fungal microbiota was affected by burning and mowing treatments. Abandonment caused shifts of microbiota towards a fungal-dominated system, composed of late successional fungi of the Basidiomycota. Fast-growing and putative fungal pathogens were more abundant under burnt and mowed treatments. Soil arthropods were influenced by vegetation and microbiota changes, being strongly reduced in mowed plots. Our study demonstrated that grassland abandonment promotes the spread of tall grasses, reducing plant diversity and increasing the risk of wildfire, while prescribed burning and mowing are effective in counteracting such negative effects.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11588/892457
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