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Ecological conditions for Saxifraga hirculus in Central Europe: a better understanding for a good protection
Saxifraga hirculus is a postglacial relict in Central Europe, whose populations suffered a dramatic decrease in the 19th and 20th centuries. However, few researchers have been interested in its ecological requirements in Central Europe. This article synthesizes previous knowledge supplemented by original data from the last large population (Switzerland). S. hirculus is a weak competitor which needs precise ecological conditions. It grows on bryophyte carpets in neutral to slightly acid wetlands, with stable water table close to the soil surface (optimum between 8-14 cm) but does not stand long flooding. However, it requires a good oxygen supply, with roots 2-3 cm under the soil surface, generally not reached by water, with running, cold water through loose, fibric peat. Its optimal conditions are in spring fens, but it grows in other types of wetlands as well. However, overgrowing by shrubs, sedges or Sphagnum in natural successions may threaten the species with extinction, as did drainage and peat extraction previously. Now, its survival in Central Europe depends on an adequate management of the ecosystems. Moderate grazing (cattle or sheep) or mowing help to limit competition with taller Carex species. Re-introduction of disappeared populations or creation of new ones from cultivation in botanical garden is possible, but appropriate sites are rare. In some cases, substrate management could improve the conditions in somewhat inadequate situations. This management in four directions can be flexibly applied in different situations to progress to optimal conditions for the conservation of this valuable species.
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