Biodiversity and Conservation | 2021
The importance of livestock grazing at woodland-grassland interface in the conservation of rich oakwood plant communities in temperate Europe
Traditional husbandry fostered rich semi-open oakwood communities composed of forest and non-forest species. In the eastern Carpathian region, silvo-pastoralism was commonplace by the mid-1900s. This study aimed to determine the state of the preservation of the ecotonal character of grassland-woodland interfaces in formerly pastured cultural landscapes of SE-Polish Carpathian foothills and W-Ukrainian Ciscarpathia in the context of land-use change. In the first region, despite the long-lasting history of forest grazing amongst mainly arable land, the post-WWII collapse of husbandry and the imposed ban on forest grazing, has led to swift development of dense undergrowth and establishment of impermeable ecological woodland-open habitat barrier. As a result, former silvo-pastoral oakwoods developed the features of the Tilio-Carpinentum forest community although some forest species have not yet moved in due to their poor dispersibility. The much younger oakwoods in the Ukrainian study region are remnants of the sparsely treed grasslands, some of which had been ploughed in the mid 20th century. Their semi-open canopy structure, maintained through repetitive grass burning, contributes to the communities ecotonal character, but without regular livestock-led plant “spill-over” from the grassland, the oakwoods remain species-poor. The restoration of species-rich semi-open oak woods requires “unsealing” the forest-grassland interface, reducing the degree of canopy closure, and opening that zone up to extensive grazing—an important seed dispersal vector.