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  • Author or Editor: B. Krüsi x
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Small-scale vegetation patterns are frequently the results of plant-plant interactions such as facilitation and competition. Facilitation should be particularly pronounced when both abiotic and biotic stresses are high, but few studies were conducted in such habitats. In heavily-grazed pastures on the eastern Tibetan Plateau, an area with both high abiotic stress and strong biotic disturbance, we made relevés of herb species both beneath and outside canopies of three shrub species (Spiraea alpina, Sibiraea angustata and Potentilla fruticosa) differing in palatability and canopy structure. Herb species richness (S), pooled cover (PC) of all species, number of flowering species (FS) and number of inflorescences of all species (IN) were greater outside than beneath the shrub canopies. Evenness (J), in contrast, was smaller outside, while Shannon’s diversity index (H) was the same. Differences in S and J between plots beneath and outside the shrub canopies were greater in the case of P. fruticosa than in the cases of S. angustata and S. alpina, but differences in PC, FS or IN did not depend on the shrub species. Among the common species (frequency ≥6), 47–85% were equally frequent beneath and outside the shrubs, 13–39% were more frequent outside and 3–13% were more frequent beneath the shrubs. For the rarest species (frequency < 6), however, more species occurred beneath than outside the shrubs. The ordination diagram showed a clear separation between the relevés outside and beneath the shrubs and a gradient from P. fruticosa via S. alpina to S. angustata, accompanied by a distinct decrease in the extent of the difference between the vegetation beneath and outside the shrub canopies. In conclusion, the three shrub species facilitated some species in the herb layer and each shrub species had a specific impact, related to its canopy structure and palatability but also to the grazing pressure, which was greater around the P. fruticosa shrubs than around S. alpina and S. angustata.

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Interactions between grassland ecosystems and vertebrate herbivores are critical for a better understanding of ecosystem processes, but diverge widely in different ecosystems. In this study, we examined plant responses to simulated red deer ( Cervus elaphus L.) grazing using clip-plot experiments in a subalpine grassland ecosystem of the Central European Alps. We measured aboveground net primary production (ANPP) and phosphorus (P) concentration of leaf tissue from plants of two vegetation types with different grazing history. The experimental plots were placed on a soil-P gradient and subject to two different clipping treatments, which simulated moderate and heavy grazing, respectively. We found distinct differences in the response of both ANPP and P concentration in leaf tissues in the two vegetation types. Compared to moderate, heavy grazing simulation did not affect ANPP in the vegetation type adapted to grazing, but decreased ANPP in the non-grazing adapted vegetation type. High soil-P levels also had different effects on the response of the vegetation to clipping in the two vegetation types with different grazing history. ANPP correlated positively with soil-P in non-grazing adapted tall-grass vegetation, while in grazing adapted short-grass vegetation a positive relationship between soil-P and the P concentration in leaf tissues was found. Our experiments provide data for a better understanding of ecosystem processes in high-elevation grasslands of the Alps with possible implications for both nature conservation purposes in protected areas and the management of agriculturally used grasslands.

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