Can establishment characteristics explain the poor colonization success of late successional species on ex-arable land?

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Many grassland restoration projects on former arable land face problems because early successional grassland species establish vigorously and persistently but late successional grassland species fail to establish. Differences in establishment characteristics of early and late successional species might provide an explanation for the failure of many late successional species to colonize grasslands on ex-arable land. I examined whether early and late successional species had different establishment rates in the initial years of a grassland succession, whether a specific establishment stage (seedling emergence, mortality or growth) could be identified as the key process controlling establishment, and what management would enhance the establishment of late successional grassland species. Seeds of three early and three late successional species were sown separately in ex-arable plots with bare soil, 1-year-old vegetation, and 2-year-old vegetation. Emergence, mortality, and seedling growth were monitored for 1 year. Early successional species established successfully in the bare soil plots but failed to establish in plots with 1- and 2-year-old vegetation. Late successional species showed either lower establishment rates in the younger succession stages or decreased establishment with succession that nevertheless resulted in significant establishment in the oldest plots. Seedling emergence proved to be the key factor determining the establishment pattern of early and late successional species. In absolute numbers, emergence of late successional species was, however, similar or higher than that of early successional species, even in the earliest succession stage. The poor establishment of late successional species on former arable land could therefore not be explained solely by differences in establishment characteristics between early and late successional grassland species. Competitive processes between early and late successional species later in the life cycle probably play an important role. The results do point out that establishment of late successional species can be promoted by creating vegetative cover from the start of the restoration effort.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-138
JournalRestoration Ecology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2003



  • plant-communities
  • local flora
  • set-aside
  • vegetation
  • seed
  • germination
  • management
  • fields
  • recruitment
  • feasibility

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