Plant Ecology and Evolution 148(2): 181-190, doi: 10.5091/plecevo.2015.1013
Specialist plant species harbour higher reproductive performances in recently restored calcareous grasslands than in reference habitats
expand article infoMélanie Harzé, Grégory Mahy, Jean-Philippe Bizoux, Julien Piqueray, Arnaud Monty
‡ University of Liège, Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech, Biodiversity and landscape Unit, 2, Passage des Déportés, BE-5030 Gembloux, Belgium
Open Access
Background and aims – Calcareous grasslands are local biodiversity hotspots in temperate regions that suffered intensive fragmentation. Ecological restoration projects took place all over Europe. Their success has traditionally been assessed using a plant community approach. However, population ecology can also be useful to assess restoration success and to understand underlying mechanisms. Methods – We took advantage of three calcareous grassland sites in Southern Belgium, where reference parcels coexist with parcels restored in the late twentieth century and with more recently restored parcels. We evaluated the colonization stage of three specialist species ( Sanguisorba minor, Potentilla neumanniana and Hippocrepis comosa ) using occurrence data. We also measured the reproductive traits of 120 individuals per species and compared components of fitness between recent restorations, old restorations and reference habitats. Key results – We found that the occurrence of H. comosa was similar in the different restoration classes, whereas both P. neumanniana and S. minor occurrences decreased from reference grasslands to recent restorations. In contrast, these two latter species exhibited a much higher reproductive output in recent restorations, thanks to an increased production of flowers and seeds. Conclusions – Our results suggest that, during colonization of recently restored calcareous grasslands, favourable environmental conditions, low competition and sufficient genetic mixing may lead to an increased fitness of individuals and a faster population growth than in the reference habitat. These results demonstrate how population processes can increase ecological resilience and highlight the interest of a population-based approach to assess the success of ecological restoration.