High resistance of plant biodiversity to moderate native woody encroachment in loess steppe grassland fragments

Balázs Teleki, Judit Sonkoly, László Erdős, Béla Tóthmérész, Mátyás Prommer, Péter Török

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Questions: Woody encroachment affects many open habitats from semi-deserts to wetlands and grasslands. We aimed to study the effect of native woody encroachment on grassland plant biodiversity in loess steppe fragments by analysing the vegetation composition of grasslands subjected to increasing levels of encroachment. We studied both ancient and restored grasslands with the following research hypotheses: (a) increasing woody encroachment decreases total diversity and the species richness of dry-grassland species; and (b) the effect of woody cover on grassland biodiversity differs between ancient and restored grasslands. Location: South-Eastern part of Transdanubia, Hungary, Central Europe. Methods: Altogether 63 loess grassland fragments were selected for the study. The percentage cover of trees, shrubs and herbaceous vegetation were recorded in 400-m2-sized plots (n = 110). The effects of woody encroachment and grassland age on diversity, total species richness of the herb layer, and richness of dry-grassland species were analysed. Results: We found that woody encroachment affected the total richness of the herb layer and the species richness of dry-grassland species. For most of the listed variables, lowest values were found for the highest woody encroachment groups. Grassland age affected the species richness of the herb layer and that of dry-grassland species; lower values were detected in restored grasslands. In restored grasslands, Shannon diversity and species evenness were lower, while Berger–Parker dominance was higher than in ancient grasslands. Species composition and richness displayed a relatively high resistance to moderate woody encroachment; the highest decrease in diversity was detected at a high level of woody encroachment (>52% of woody cover). Conclusions: We can conclude that low to moderate woody encroachment cannot be simplistically regarded as degradation. Results suggest that moderately encroached loess grasslands can be easily restored by the suppression of woody species, as their species pool still contains many dry-grassland species targeted for restoration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)175-184
Number of pages10
JournalApplied Vegetation Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 1 2020


  • Festuco-Brometea
  • abandonment
  • biodiversity conservation
  • dry grassland
  • fragmentation
  • grassland restoration
  • grassland species
  • loess steppe
  • species diversity
  • woody encroachment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law

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