Orsolya Valkó, Rocco Labadessa, Salza Palpurina, Sabina Burrascano, Atushi Ushimaru and Stephen Venn
Palaearctic grasslands are diverse and dynamic ecosystems that are in the focus of ecology, conservation biology and agronomy. This special issue is dedicated to the biodiversity and conservation issues of Palaearctic grasslands and was initiated by the Eurasian Dry Grassland Group members attending the 14th Eurasian Dry Grassland Conference (EDGC) at Sulmona, Italy in 2018. The papers in this special issue cover a wide range of grassland ecosystems from mountain dry grasslands to lowland loess grasslands, feathergrass steppes and wet grasslands, and focus on the biodiversity values and conservation issues of Palaearctic grasslands. We believe that this compilation will contribute to a better understanding of the ecology of grasslands and support their more effective conservation.
Orsolya Valkó, Stephen Venn, Michał Żmihorski, Idoia Biurrun, Rocco Labadessa and Jacqueline Loos
Disturbance by biomass removal is a crucial mechanism maintaining the diversity of Palaearctic grasslands, which are unique biodiversity hotspots. The century-long traditional land use of mowing, grazing and burning, has been fundamentally changed in many parts of the Palaearctic. Due to socio-economic changes, large areas of former pastures and meadows have been abandoned, leading to a succession towards secondary scrublands or forest and the encroachment of competitor grass species, all leading to a decrease in biodiversity. Here we report the causes and consequences of the cessation of traditional grassland management regimes, provide strategies for reducing the impact of abandonment and consider these from the perspective of sustainability. We consider the possibilities for initiating sustainable management regimes in the contemporary socio-economic environment, and discuss the prospects and limitation of alternative management regimes in the conservation of grassland biodiversity. These themes are also the core topics of this Special Feature, edited by the EDGG. We hope that this Special Feature will encourage steps towards more sustainable strategies for the conservation of Palaearctic grasslands and the integration of the sustainability perspective into their conservation.
Csaba Albert Tóth, Balázs Deák, István Nyilas, László Bertalan, Orsolya Valkó and Tibor József Novák
Prehistoric mounds of the Great Hungarian Plain often function as refuges for relic loess steppe vegetation and their associated fauna. The Zsolca mounds are a typical example of kurgans acting as refuges, and even though they are surrounded by agricultural land, they harbour a species rich loess grassland with an area of 0.8 ha. With a detailed field survey of their geomorphology, soil, flora and fauna, we describe the most relevant attributes of the mounds regarding their maintenance as valuable grassland habitats. We recorded 104 vascular plant species, including seven species that are protected in Hungary and two species (Echium russicum and Pulsatilla grandis) listed in the IUCN Red List and the Habitats Directive. The negative effect of the surrounding cropland was detectable in a three-metre wide zone next to the mound edge, where the naturalness of the vegetation was lower, and the frequency of weeds, ruderal species and crop plants was higher than in the central zone. The ancient man-made mounds harboured dry and warm habitats on the southern slope, while the northern slopes had higher biodiversity, due to the balanced water supplies. Both microhabitats had different assemblages of ground-dwelling invertebrates.
Orsolya Valkó, Michal Zmihorski, Idoia Biurrun, Jacqueline Loos, Rocco Labadessa and Stephen Venn
Palaearctic grasslands encompass a diverse variety of habitats, many of high nature value and vulnerability. The main challenges are climate-change, land-use change, agricultural intensification and abandonment. Many measures are in place to address these challenges, through restoration and appropriate management, though more work is necessary. We present eight studies from China/Germany, Greece, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine. The papers cover a wide range of grassland and steppe habitats and cover vegetation ecology, syntaxonomy and zoology. We also conducted a systematic search on steppe and grassland diversity. The greatest number of studies was from China, followed by Germany and England. We conclude that the amount of research being carried out on Eurasian grasslands is inadequate considering their high levels of biodiversity and vulnerability. We hope to encourage readers to address current major challenges, such as how to manage grasslands for the benefit of diverse taxa, to ensure that conservation initiatives concentrate on sites where there is good potential for success and for the generation of realistic and viable conservation strategies.