Grasslands are an important and widespread type of vegetation but they vary greatly in relation to composition, production and methods of utilisation in Europe. The grasslands range from intensively managed, single species, sown swards to semi-natural and natural communities. Permanent grasslands are the most widespread and are estimated to occupy more than 30% of total land area in Ireland, Britain and France although in Nordic and Baltic countries and in some Mediterranean regions, where there are problems of persistence, annual grasses are more important.
All grasslands, even the natural and semi-natural communities, are maintained in their present state by man's activities and those of his livestock. Their species compositions and their structure has been determined by a combination of climatic, edaphic and anthropogenic forces. The result of this is a series of different grassland communities, typically composed of a complex mixture of perennial grasses, nitrogen fixing legumes and non-fixing dicots of different growth forms (functional types).
The aim of this project is to investigate the long-term responses of a representative selection of European semi-natural grassland ecosystems to elevated CO2 and climate change across a European transect which exploits the natural gradients in environmental variables. The study will centre on the mechanisms governing changes in the structure of the grassland communities, as well as on the consequences of these changes for essential ecosystem functions (carbon uptake and storage; water budget; nutrient fluxes), and for forage supply (herbivory) and soil processes (decomposition) that are affected by the quality (e.g. carbohydrate and protein contents) of these plant tissues.
The objectives of this project are to test the following hypotheses:
1. That interactions between components of global change (CO2, temperature, rainfall, nitrogen deposition) and management practices (nitrogen fertilisation, cutting frequency, grazing) affect the growth, development and productivity of grassland ecosystems and carbon sequestration in the soil organic matter.
2. That global change affects the structure and botanical composition of grassland ecosystems, because the impacts will be different for each of the functional types.
3. That global change, through changes in tissue quality, will have an impact on the activity of grass herbivores (above-ground) and decomposers (below-ground).
4. That models can be used to simulate and predict the responses of grasslands to global change and furthermore they can be used on a European scale to ensure the development of sustainable management systems in a changing climate.
5. That management and environmental policy concerning grasslands can be directed towards land-use practices that could mitigate the effects of global change.
Funding SchemeCSC - Cost-sharing contracts
6700 AB Wageningen
50013 Campi Bisenzio
LL57 2UW Bangor