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High Land-Use Intensity Diminishes Stability of Forage Provision of Mountain Pastures under Future Climate Variability (2021.0)

Berauer B., Wilfahrt P., Schuchardt M., Schlingmann M., Schucknecht A., Jentsch A.

Agronomy, 11 (5), 910



Semi-natural, agriculturally used grasslands provide important ecologic and economic services, such as feed supply. In mountain regions, pastures are the dominant agricultural system and face more severe climate change impacts than lowlands. Climate change threatens ecosystem functions, such as aboveground net primary production [ANPP] and its nutrient content. It is necessary to understand the impacts of climate change and land-management on such ecosystems to develop management practices to sustainably maintain provision of ecosystem services under future climatic conditions. We studied the effect of climate change and different land-use intensities on plant-soil communities by the downslope translocation of plant-soil mesocosms along an elevation gradient in 2016, and the subsequent application of two management types (extensive vs. intensive). Communities’ response to ANPP and leaf carbon (C), nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P) content was quantified over the subsequent two years after translocation. ANPP increased with warming in 2017 under both management intensities, but this effect was amplified by intensive land-use management. In 2018, ANPP of intensively managed communities decreased, in comparison to 2017, from 35% to 42%, while extensively managed communities maintained their production levels. The changes in ANPP are coupled with an exceptionally dry year in 2018, with up to 100 more days of drought conditions. The C:N of extensively managed communities was higher than those of intensively managed ones, and further increased in 2018, potentially indicating shifts in resource allocation strategies that may explain production stability. Our results revealed a low resistance of intensively managed communities’ ANPP under especially dry conditions. The ability to alter resource allocation likely enables a constant level of production under extensive management, but this ability is lost under intensive management. Thus, future drought events may leave intensive management as a non-sustainable farming practice, and ultimately threaten ecosystem services of montane pastures.