What plant traits tell us: Consequences of land-use change of a traditional agro-forest system on biodiversity and ecosystem service provision
Full author list:
Veronika Fontana, Anna Radtke, Janette Walde, Erich Tasser, Thomas Wilhalm, Stefan Zerbe, Ulrike Tappeiner
Traditional agro-forest systems (TAFS) link the two ecosystems forest and grassland and are an attractive, species-rich land-use type in the European cultural landscape. In the past decades, particularly in mountainous regions, socio economic changes have resulted in their abandonment or intensification of use. Our study employed plant traits to analyze and understand the consequences that abandonment and intensification have on plant species diversity, functional diversity and the provision of ecosystem services of larch (Larix decidua) grassland, a TAFS in the European Alps. By applying commonly used traits such as growth form and pollination agent, together with less used traits such as flower color and edible or healing plants, we found highest plant species diversity in traditionally managed larch meadows and larch pastures, while functional diversity was seen to be high also in abandoned larch grasslands. We further show that provision of the ecosystem services scenic beauty and pollination is best in traditionally managed larch meadows and larch pastures. Regarding the provision of edible or healing plants, the largest species pool was found in traditionally managed larch meadows, while the highest species coverage was found in intensively managed larch meadows. Summarizing our results, we deduce that both the abandonment and intensification of larch grasslands result in a loss of plant diversity and a decrease in provided ecosystem services. Consequently, enhancement of our knowledge through further investigation of TAFS is essential for the maintenance and conservation of these valuable cultural ecosystems.