Effect of tall-grass invasion on the flowering-related functional pattern of submediterranean hay-meadows
Several studies demonstrated that abandonment changes the functional composition of grasslands; nevertheless, little is known about the effects of grassland abandonment on the flowering-related functional pattern. We hypothesized that invasion by tall grasses affects this pattern. We counted the number of flowering shoots per species at five times during the growing season, in 80 plots placed in mown and in abandoned grasslands (central Apennines), and assessed the differences in the trait composition of flowering species between the two treatments. The selected traits were linked to resource acquisition and stress tolerance strategies. Our results indicated that abiotic environmental control is prevalent in determining the phenological pattern in both conditions and in accordance with the phenological “mid-domain hypothesis”. We demonstrated that when the dominant species is a tall grass with competitive behaviour, the magnitude of this phenomenon is amplified due to the abiotic changes yielded by the tall grass invasion. Indeed, in the central and late phases of the growing season (when invasive tall grasses are growing and blooming), abandoned grasslands were marked by a set of traits devoted to stress tolerance or underlying a long reproductive cycle or linked to competition for light.