NKFIH K 119225 (2016-2020)
How can plant ecology support grassland restoration?
Project leader: Péter Török

Traditionally managed species-rich landscapes in Europe and elsewhere are facing a large-scale degradation nowadays, largely caused by changes in the intensity of agricultural land-use, such as intensification or abandonment. For the conservation of biodiversity in such agriculture-driven landscapes, dry and mesic grasslands have an outstanding importance. In the last few decades most of the grasslands were subjected to degradation, which resulted in the loss of biodiversity and other ecosystem functions and services. The recovery of grassland biodiversity by practical habitat restoration, therefore, became a top priority both in scientific research and practice. However, there is a conspicuous gap between the theory- and practice-driven approaches between biodiversity conservation science and policy highlighted in some recent studies. On one hand there are various theories and tools developed in plant ecology to understand the species assembly, dispersal and establishment processes in a wide range of habitats over the world. On the other hand, during practical grassland restoration a set of measures were used for recovering grassland vegetation and assessing restoration success during which huge amounts of evidence-based knowledge have been accumulated. A unified framework linking theoretical plant ecology with the practical implemented restoration is still lacking. In our research we aimed to explore how theoretical findings can support a cost-effective and successful grassland restoration in agriculture-driven landscapes. This approach in restoration is very novel and well connected to the mainstream of restoration ecology and theoretical plant ecology research.

 

NKFIH KH 129483 (2018-2020)
Effect of grazing on functional diversity of grasslands
Project leader: Péter Török

To sustain the traditional land use and landscape-sca le biodiversity extensive pastoral and free grazing are vital and effective management options. Although the traditional livestock breeds are increasingly considered in grassland management and biodiversity conservation practice, the direct effects of these breeds on the species composition and richness of subjected communities are rarely studied. The planned research aims to study the intensity dependent effects of livestock grazing on the studied grassland communities by using a complex sampling of vegetation, soil and soil seed bank. For the first work package altogether 72 stands of alkali short-steppes, loess grasslands, alkali and non-alkali wet grasslands grazed in varying intensity prevailingly by Hungarian grey cattle were selected in order to study the change in the functional diversity of the vegetation induced by grazing. In the second work package, we aimed to study the vegetation and seed banks of typical physiognomically distinct vegetation units in 10 sites of wood pastures in Hungary and Romania. In the third work package we compared the vegetation composition and biomass production of alkali dry short-grass steppes, loess grasslands, alkali and non-alkali wet grassland grazed by sheep or cattle using a complex vegetation sampling. In the three work packages, by addressing 9 particular research questions we aim to answer how grazing with different intensity, also considering livestock identity, affects the vegetation, species composition, the soil and the density and composition of soil seed banks in the studied grassland communities.

 

LP2017-22/2017 (2017-2022) Lendület II. project
New frontiers in restoration: Ecological theories provide strong support to develop and sustain green infrastructure
Projekt leader: Péter Török

To sustain human well-being and the quality of life, it is essential to develop and support green infrastructure (i.e. strategically planned network of natural and semi-natural areas with other environmental features designed and managed to deliver a wide range of ecosystem services). For developing and sustaining green infrastructure the conservation and restoration of biodiversity in natural and traditionally managed habitats is crucial. Species-rich landscapes and natural habitats are facing large-scale degradation caused by the intensified land-use. The loss of biodiversity also strongly affected the landscape functionality via the decreased levels of pollination and biological pest control. Habitat restoration is a powerful tool to counteract degradation by the recovery of former species richness and area of natural habitats and by creating a habitat network and connectivity in landscapes dominated by human influence. Thus, habitat restoration has a top priority both in scientific research and in practice. There is a strong demand to seek cost-effective habitat management and recovery strategies, because of the high costs of technical restoration. Incorporating findings of theoretical ecology into practical restoration can address this request. Our ultimate goal was to develop and test ways to link biodiversity conservation, sustainable management and restoration in order to meet the major challenges related to land use, climate change adaptation and human well-being.

 

NKFIH KH 130320
Role of functional plant traits in grassland dynamics and restoration
Project leader: Edina Tóth

As grasslands provide economically important key ecosystem services, such as biological pest control, erosion protection, water retention or the fixing of excess nutrients, their importance is especially high in agro-ecosystems. Factors affecting the spatial and temporal patterns of biodiversity and the possible causes of species’ rarity have long been important aspects of ecological research. Lately, the processes and effects of seed dispersal and seed bank formation, as well as the processes related to the resistance and resilience of the communities, have been getting increasing attention during the conservation and restoration of grassland biodiversity. A significant amount of grasslands in Central and Eastern Europe has been degraded due to the changes in management intensity. To understand the related ecological processes, functional analyses of the rules that govern species assembly and vegetation dynamics are vital. Analyses based on functional diversity are able to provide more direct conclusions about the processes that shape plant communities than analyses based on species composition alone. Besides answering questions in the work packages, building an open access trait database of the Pannonian flora is also an essential part of the research proposal, which would further promote the development of Hungarian functional ecological studies.

 

NKFIH FK 132142 (2019-2023)
Benthic algal composition-extreme climatic events’ relations in the Carpathian Basin
Project leader: Viktória B-Béres

In the last decades, drought duration and severity were increased in the Carpathian Basin endangering natural (biological) and human systems in different ways. Although temporary streams occur in many climate regions, they are widespread in semi-arid to Mediterranean regions. But the even hotter and drier summer and fall predicted in climate change scenarios for the continental region may result an increase in number of intermittent streams. Benthic algae as primary producers have essential role in food web and energy transfer, and their assemblages indicate effectively the changes in environmental conditions. However, only a little information is available how drought modifies community structure and function in biofilm, especially in the continental region. This gap has opened up new perspectives in diatom and community based researches. Thus in this project, drought effects on benthic diatom assemblages will be studied in the Carpathian Basin (i) both in perennial and in intermittent small streams; (ii) in lowland and also in hilly small watercourses; and (iii) during flowing and dry phases in the intermittent streams. In addition, diatom-based water quality will be also assessed. Our results will provide detailed knowledge and improved understanding about diatom communities-extreme climate events relations (basic research approach). Furthermore, our high-value results could also be the basis of strategic decisions, both from conservation biological and economical point of views (applied research approach).

 

NKFIH PD 132131 (2019-2022)
Novel aspects of the ecosystem engineering effects of woody plants
Project leader: Csaba Tölgyesi

The aim of the research is to improve our understanding of the ecosystem engineering effects of woody species on their abiotic environment and the herb layer vegetation. We will focus on two understudied aspects of the topic. First, we will study the effects of woody species on deeper soil layers, with a special attention on their annual moisture cycles, and place the findings in the context of traditionally studied effects of woody species (microclimate, topsoil moisture, etc.). Our results will help better understanding ecological mechanisms driving forest-grassland mosaics. Results will be used for linking site and regional level effects of woody species into a coherent multiscale framework, which can, for example, help us formulating recommendations on sustainable forest management. In the second topic we focus on a situation where considerable herbivore pressure (incl. grazing, manuring and trampling) interacts with the primary effects of woody species. The study will be realized in wood-pastures, which represent one of the most ancient land use types in Europe. They harbour high biodiversity and significantly contribute to the livelihood of local people. However, wood-pastures are threatened all across the continent due to land use changes related to deficiencies in the common agricultural policy of the EU and social-economic changes. Thus, there is a need for evidence-based conservation and management options to improve the situation. Beyond understanding elementary ecological interactions in wood-pastures, our research also aims to fill this gap of knowledge.