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Relationships between diversity of grassland vegetation, field characteristics and land use management practices assessed at the farm level

Andrieu N., Josien E., Duru M.. 2007. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, 120 (2-4) : p. 359-369.

DOI: 10.1016/j.agee.2006.10.022

In order to assess the impact of policies to encourage extensification in less favoured areas and improve our knowledge of extensive livestock systems, we analyzed relationships between the diversity of grassland vegetation and land use management practices and field characteristics. This study, conducted on a mountainous area in the centre of France, was based on 149 fields, mainly of natural grasslands belonging to 7 farmers. Regression analyses were performed to analyze the relations between the grassland vegetation types (five types established from the list of dominant species), management practices (cutting versus grazing and fertilization) and the topographic (altitude and aspect) and topologic (slope, distance and surface area) characteristics of the fields. The land use management rules used by the farmers were studied by specifying the grazing management rules of the herd (dairy cows), as well as those for conserved forage (mainly hay or silage) and were identified from observations mentioned on the "grazing schedules", as well as from interviews at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the study period. The statistical analysis showed that neither the topographic characteristics of the fields nor the distance from the cowshed or surface area were correlated with the grassland vegetation types. It was the management practices used, largely determined by the field slope, which determined the grassland vegetation type. On the other hand, farmers¿ statements showed that the grazing and cutting management rules were mostly determined by the slope of the fields and the distance from the cowshed and, to a lesser extent, by the altitude and aspect. These results showed that the farmers take into consideration environmental differences when choosing fields to allocate for grazing and cutting at different seasons, particularly when they are constrained by these features. Nevertheless, when the constraints were minimal, a wide diversity of grassland vegetation types was also observed. This diversity was a result of attributing different functions to the fields which led to different management practices (defoliation methods and fertilization) and, thus, to different grassland vegetation types. Consequently, for farms where animal feed requirements vary according to the time of the year and the type of animal, we suggest that diversity in the grassland vegetation types is a sound component of these livestock systems. © 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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