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Flood meadows in Finland – their development during the past century

Huhta, Ari‐Pekka, Rautio, Pasi
Nordic journal of botany 2014 v.32 no.6 pp. 858-870
Equisetum, biotopes, engineering, flood meadows, floods, forage, grasses, herbs, ice, mowing, open space, rivers, shrubs, soil water, swamps, trees, Finland
Flood meadows represent semi‐natural vegetation by the great rivers in northern Finland. Physical forces acting on the river banks such as ice, floods and annual sedimentation create temporarily oxygen‐free conditions as well as open space for the growth of grasses and herbs. Besides flood dynamics, clearing and mowing for winter forage maintained flood meadow series representative for centuries. When the regular management for winter forage ceased by the end of 1950's, flood meadows started to overgrow by trees and shrubs, and thus change back to their virgin state. Different meadow types are traditionally arranged into a grassland continuum on the basis of their soil moisture gradient: from dry to wet meadows, from which dozens of vicariating associations emerge. Fine‐featured vegetation types may be categorized into six functional groups according to their vicinity to riverside and flooding frequency. The aim of this study was to define the state of flood meadows in Finland by studying the data collected during the nationwide inventory (NWI) of traditional rural biotopes in Finland 1992–2001, and by comparing NWI with the vast material collected by 14 different researchers starting from the beginning of the 1900's and reaching into first decade of present millennia. First, the NWI and the researchers’ data were studied alone and thereafter the material was pooled and compared. Results show that management cessation have had only minor effect on wet flood meadows close to mean water level. Equisetum fluviatile‐, tall Carex‐ and moist grass flood meadows remain largely open without human influence. However, combined effect of ceased mowing and decreased sedimentation due, e.g. to watercourse regulation and hydraulic engineering, changes also the wet types into open‐ and shrub‐covered swamps. In contrast, without management the uppermost tall herb‐, moist grass‐ and small herb flood meadows turn quickly into thickets. As a consequence, today moist grass‐, tall‐ and small herb flood meadows are critically endangered habitat types in Finland.