Grassland communities of traditional orchards in the Western Carpathians (Slovakia)

Hubert Zarnovican, Jozef Kollár, Iveta Škodová


Traditional orchards are a valuable feature of the rural landscape and they are specific for regions with scattered settlement such as the Myjava hilly land and White Carpathians. Here, the permanent species-rich grasslands beneath trees were regularly managed in the traditional manner until some were replaced in the 1970’s and 80’s by intensively managed orchards, some of which were abandoned in the early 1990’s. Our 2011–2015 phytosociological research followed the standard Braun-Blanquet approach. We classified 178 phytosociological relevés recorded in orchard meadows (156 relevés), former intensively managed orchards (16 relevés), and two relevés from a semi-intensively grazed orchard. Traditionally managed orchard meadows were classified in the following five units: (i) Pastinaco sativae-Arrhenatheretum elatioris – thermophilous variant, (ii) Pastinaco sativae-Arrhenatheretum elatioris – transitional variant to Alchemillo-Arrhenatheretum elatioris, (iii) Ranunculo bulbosi-Arrhenatheretum elatioris, (iv) Onobrychido viciifoliae-Brometum erecti, and (v) Brachypodio pinnati-Molinietum arundinaceae. Formerly intensively managed large-scale orchards were classified as Pastinaco sativae-Arrhenatheretum elatioris association and the semi-intensively grazed orchard as Lolio perennis-Cynosuretum cristati association. The species composition varies considerably due to tree-shading and different management treatments applied in the orchards, so the relevés of the delimited syntaxonomic units are not typical and have transitional character. Moisture, soil nutrients, and soil reaction were identified as the main environmental gradients influencing species composition. We tested four management treatments in direct gradient analysis and found that abandonment has the strongest effect on species composition. Comparison of grassland vegetation in the studied traditional orchards with that described in Germany reveals differences in species composition. Moreover, species richness of the compared Arrhenatherion elatioris and Bromion erecti alliances in Slovakian orchard meadows was higher than in the German orchards.


orchard meadows; vegetation; scattered settlements; management; syntaxonomy; diversity; Myjava hilly land; White Carpathians

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