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Drivers of vegetation change in grasslands of the Sheffield region, northern England, between 1965 and 2012/13

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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>04/2016
<mark>Journal</mark>Applied Vegetation Science
Issue number2
Volume19
Number of pages9
Pages (from-to)187-195
Publication statusPublished
Early online date7/12/15
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Abstract
Questions
How has vegetation species diversity and species composition changed between 1965 and 2012/13 in acidic and calcareous grasslands? What has driven this change in vegetation?

Location
A 2400-km2 area around Sheffield, northern England.

Methods
In 1965 a survey was conducted to describe grassland vegetation of the Sheffield region. We repeated this survey in 2012/13, revisiting acidic and calcareous grassland sites (455 quadrats). Climate, N and sulphur deposition, cattle and sheep stocking rates, soil pH, altitude, aspect and slope were considered to be potential drivers of variation in vegetation. We analysed temporal changes in vegetation and examined relationships with spatial and temporal variation in driver variables.

Results
Both acidic and calcareous grasslands showed clear changes in species composition between the two time periods. In acidic grasslands there was no significant change in richness but there were declines in diversity. There were significant increases in Ellenberg N. Nitrogen deposition and grazing were identified as potential drivers of spatial and temporal patterns but it was not possible to discriminate the respective impacts of potential drivers. In calcareous grasslands there were declines in species richness, diversity and appropriate diversity indices. Climate and soil pH were identified as potential drivers of spatial and temporal patterns.

Conclusions
Despite only small site losses compared to other surveys in the UK, especially within the national park, both calcareous and acidic grasslands showed very clear changes in species composition. In acidic grasslands, high abundance of Pteridium aquilinum was a particular problem and had increased considerably between the two survey periods. Atmospheric N deposition and grazing were identified as drivers of species diversity. A number of calcareous grasslands showed signs of reduced management intensity leading to scrub invasion.