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29-09-2016 | Issue 6/2016

Environmental Management 6/2016

Using Different Grazing Practices for Increasing Plant Biodiversity in the Dykes and Embankments Along the Rhône River (Southern France)

Journal:
Environmental Management > Issue 6/2016
Authors:
Cannelle Moinardeau, François Mesléard, Thierry Dutoit
Important notes

Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (doi:10.​1007/​s00267-016-0744-9) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

Abstract

Extensive grazing by domestic herbivores is a widespread management practice used since the 80s in many European agro-ecosystems such as semi-natural grasslands to maintain open habitats and to enhance biodiversity. Such grazing systems have principally been tested in cultural ecosystems of high nature value threatened by grazing abandonment. However, there have been few case studies of grazing management in very anthropized ecosystems, such as the new ecosystems created by urban or industrial conversions. In Southern France, the Rhône channeling for navigation and electricity production generated in the 1950s the construction of thousands of hectares of dams and dykes which were colonized naturally by diverse plant communities. Yet shrub encroachment and the consequent recourse to mechanical cutting to facilitate control and maintenance, raise the question of how best to maintain and manage these new habitats. Consequently, since 1999, different low-intensity grazing management systems using rustic breeds of cattle, horses and goats have been tested on a protected reserve of 1454 ha located in the lower part of the Rhône river. Extensive grazing, more than cutting or no management, positively modified vegetation heterogeneity (beta-diversity), the target open grassland species, but not plant species richness (alpha-diversity). However, the current monitoring shows that these benefits of grazing will be confirmed only if low-intensity grazing systems are sustained and if new adaptations can be also made, such as the use of mixed stocking and the establishment of multiyear contracts with breeders.

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