Effects of reduced summer precipitation on productivity and forage quality of floodplain meadows at the Elbe and the Rhine River

  • Background

    Floodplain meadows along rivers are semi-natural habitats and depend on regular land use. When used non-intensively, they offer suitable habitats for many plant species including rare ones. Floodplains are hydrologically dynamic ecosystems with both periods of flooding and of dry conditions. In German floodplains, dry periods may increase due to reduced summer precipitation as projected by climate change scenarios. Against this background, the question arises, how the forage quantity and quality of these meadows might change in future.


    We report results of two field trials that investigated effects of experimentally reduced summer precipitation on hay quantity and quality of floodplain meadows at the Rhine River (2011-2012) and at two Elbe tributaries (2009-2011). We measured annual yield, the amount of hay biomass, and contents of crude protein, crude fibre, energy, fructan, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.


    The annual yield decreased under precipitation reduction at the Rhine River. This was due to reduced productivity in the second cut hay at the Rhine River in which, interestingly, the contents of nitrogen and crude protein increased. The first cut at the Rhine River was unaffected by the treatments. At the Elbe tributaries, the annual yield and the hay quantity and quality of both cuts were only marginally affected by the treatments.


    We conclude that the yield of floodplain meadows may become less reliable in future since the annual yield decreased under precipitation reduction at the Rhine River. However, the first and agriculturally more important cut was almost unaffected by the precipitation reduction, which is probably due to sufficient soil moisture from winter/spring. As long as future water levels of the rivers will not decrease during spring, at least the use of the hay from the first cut of floodplain meadows appears reliable under climate change.
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