A comparative analysis of functional traits in semi-natural grasslands under different grazing intensities
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The reduction of traditional management practices is a major threat for the conservation of permanent grasslands in many European marginal areas. The ecological importance of grasslands is acknowledged by the European Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC (1992) which includes many natural or semi-natural grassland types, and by the growing attention of society towards functions and services provided by these ecosystems. Nonetheless, the efficiency of conservation policies is questioned also for the lack of local-scale information on trends and state of grasslands hampers the definition of local-tailored schemes. The main objective of this work is to assess the potential of a set of functional traits in discriminating between different management intensities and their capacity to describe the dynamics occurring in semi-natural grasslands. The research was carried out in a hilly area of Tuscany (Italy) on four grassland sites characterized by similar environmental features (soil, climate, topography), and by different management practices for 10 or more years. The survey concerned collection and analysis of different functional traits related to foliar features, litter and botanical composition. The functional traits were able to differentiate the four sites under different management practices, but their effectiveness was different. Results support the possibility to perform a rapid appraisal of grassland successional stages based on leaf functional traits of dominant species and by the assessment of presence of a reduced number of species among those occurring in the community.