Supporting biodiversity by prescribed burning in grasslands - A multi-taxa approach

Orsolya Valkó, Balázs Deák, T. Magura, Péter Török, András Kelemen, Katalin Tóth, Roland Horváth, Dávid D. Nagy, Zsuzsanna Debnár, György Zsigrai, István Kapocsi, B. Tóthmérész

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

29 Citations (Scopus)


There are contrasting opinions on the use of prescribed burning management in European grasslands. On the one hand, prescribed burning can be effectively used for the management of open landscapes, controlling dominant species, reducing accumulated litter or decreasing wildfire risk. On the other hand burning can have a detrimental impact on grassland biodiversity by supporting competitor grasses and by threatening several rare and endangered species, especially arthropods. We studied the effects of prescribed burning in alkaline grasslands of high conservation interest. Our aim was to test whether dormant-season prescribed burning can be an alternative conservation measure in these grasslands. We selected six sites in East-Hungary: in three sites, a prescribed fire was applied in November 2011, while three sites remained unburnt. We studied the effects of burning on soil characteristics, plant biomass and on the composition of vegetation and arthropod assemblages (isopods, spiders, ground beetles and rove beetles). Soil pH, organic matter, potassium and phosphorous did not change, but soluble salt content increased significantly in the burnt sites. Prescribed burning had several positive effects from the nature conservation viewpoint. Shannon diversity and the number of flowering shoots were higher, and the cover of the dominant grass Festuca pseudovina was lower in the burnt sites. Graminoid biomass was lower, while total, green and forb biomass were higher in the burnt plots compared to the control. The key finding of our study was that prescribed burning did not decrease the abundance and diversity of arthropod taxa. Species-level analyses showed that out of the most abundant invertebrate species, 10 were not affected, 1 was negatively and 1 was positively affected by burning. Moreover, our results suggest that prescribed burning leaving unburnt patches can be a viable management tool in open landscapes, because it supports plant diversity and does not threaten arthropods.

Original languageEnglish
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Oct 30 2015


  • Biomass
  • Fire
  • Fuel load
  • Management
  • Response of the ecosystem
  • Steppe

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering

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    Valkó, O., Deák, B., Magura, T., Török, P., Kelemen, A., Tóth, K., Horváth, R., Nagy, D. D., Debnár, Z., Zsigrai, G., Kapocsi, I., & Tóthmérész, B. (Accepted/In press). Supporting biodiversity by prescribed burning in grasslands - A multi-taxa approach. Science of the Total Environment.