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Post-Soviet recovery of grassland vegetation on abandoned fields in the forest steppe zone of Western Siberia
- Kämpf, Immo, Mathar, Wanja, Kuzmin, Igor, Hölzel, Norbert, Kiehl, Kathrin
- Biodiversity and conservation 2016 v.25 no.12 pp. 2563-2580
- arable soils, botanical composition, forests, grasses, grazing, land use, sowing, steppes, vascular plants, Siberia, USSR
- Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 around 45 million hectares of arable land became abandoned across Russia. Our study focused on the recovery potential and conservation value of grassland vegetation on ex-arable land in the Tyumen region of the Western Siberian grain belt. We compared ex-arable grasslands of different successional stages with ancient grasslands as reference for the final stage of succession along a climatic gradient from the pre-taiga to the forest steppe zone. Plant community composition and species richness of ex-arable land clearly developed towards reference sites over time, but even after 24 years of abandonment, the grassland vegetation had not totally recovered. The γ-diversity of vascular plants was slightly higher on ex-arable land than in ancient grasslands but the mean α-diversity was still moderately lower. A significant proportion of the vegetation of ex-arable land still consisted of ruderal and mesic grassland species and the number and cover of meadow-steppe species was significantly lower than in ancient grasslands. Grazing and time since abandonment positively affected the reestablishment of target grassland species, whereas it was negatively affected by the cover of grasses. In contrast to ex-arable land, the conservation value of arable land is only modest. Therefore, future intensification of land use is most likely less harmful if directed to existing arable land. Re-cultivation of ex-arable land and grassland improvement operations such as seeding of competitive grass species are major threats for the biodiversity of secondary grasslands on ex-arable land in the forest steppe zone of Western Siberia.