Assessing the Effects of Grassland Management on Forage Production and Environmental Quality to Identify Paths to Ecological Intensification in Mountain Grasslands

Environ Manage. 2015 Nov;56(5):1039-52. doi: 10.1007/s00267-015-0550-9. Epub 2015 Jun 20.

Abstract

Ecological intensification in grasslands can be regarded as a process for increasing forage production while maintaining high levels of ecosystem functions and biodiversity. In the mountain Vercors massif, where dairy cattle farming is the main component of agriculture, how to achieve forage autonomy at farm level while sustaining environmental quality for tourism and local dairy products has recently stimulated local debate. As specific management is one of the main drivers of ecosystem functioning, we assessed the response of forage production and environmental quality at grassland scale across a wide range of management practices. We aimed to determine which components of management can be harnessed to better match forage production and environmental quality. We sampled the vegetation of 51 grasslands stratified across 13 grassland types. We assessed each grassland for agronomic and environmental properties, measuring forage production, forage quality, and indices based on the abundance of particular plant species such as timing flexibility, apiarian potential, and aromatic plants. Our results revealed an expected trade-off between forage production and environmental quality, notably by stressing the contrasts between sown and permanent grasslands. However, strong within-type variability in both production and environmental quality as well as in flexibility of timing of use suggests possible ways to improve this trade-off at grassland and farm scales. As achieving forage autonomy relies on increasing both forage production and grassland resilience, our results highlight the critical role of the ratio between sown and permanent grasslands as a major path for ecological intensification in mountain grasslands.

Keywords: Agricultural practices; Ecological intensification; Environmental properties; Livestock farming system; Mountain grassland management.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture / methods*
  • Animals
  • Biodiversity
  • Cattle
  • Conservation of Natural Resources*
  • Ecosystem
  • France
  • Grassland*
  • Livestock
  • Poaceae / physiology