Impact of sod-cutting and choppering on nutrient budgets of dry heathlands

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Heathlands are endangered by both atmospheric nutrient deposition and natural succession. High-intensity management measures are considered necessary, as low-intensity measures (e.g. mowing, prescribed burning) are not able to compensate for atmospheric nutrient loads. Choppering (i.e. the near-complete removal of the O-layer) has several advantages over sod-cutting, including less waste material, faster vegetation recovery and lower costs. This raises the question addressed in this study as to the extent to which choppering and sod-cutting affect nutrient budgets in dry heathlands. We compared the quantities of N, Ca, K, Mg, and P removed by choppering and sod-cutting in the Lueneburg Heath (NW Germany). Nutrient balances were calculated by analysing atmospheric inputs, elevated leaching rates following management, and output due to the removal of above-ground biomass and humus horizons. Nutrient loss was particularly high after removal of O- and A-horizons. In contrast, increased leaching after management was of minor importance for nutrient budgets. Although considerably more nutrients were removed by sod-cutting than by choppering (e.g. N: 1712/1008 kg ha -1), nutrient output by choppering was still sufficient to compensate for 60.7 years of net N-input. Choppering was able to remove more N per volume unit than sod-cutting due to higher N-contents in the organic layer than in the A-horizon. For this reason, choppering is more economical than sod-cutting and, thus, should be considered the preferable method at sites not dominated by Molinia caerulea. A combination of high-intensity measures with prescribed burning would appear to be suitable as this would ensure more selective removal of N.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)344-353
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 01.2007

    Research areas

  • Biology - Atmospheric nutrient deposition, Calluna vulgaris, Deschampsia flexuosa, Leaching, Nitrogen, Nutrient removal
  • Ecosystems Research