Naturalistic grazing by large herbivores: understanding biodiversity patterns in restored self-regulating temperate savanna-grassland ecosystems

Oganized by: Miloslav Jirků (Biology Centre, Czech Academy of Sciences, Czech Republic)

Naturalistic grazing by large herbivores is an increasingly practiced way of  managing habitats with conservational value. It has the potential to restore and enhance biodiversity by creating large-scale self-sustainable environments vital for organisms requiring regular disturbances moderating and/or reversing successional changes. After the cessation of agricultural and/or military use, vast abandoned areas of Europe are subject to successional changes, including the dominance of dense species poor tallgrass, litter accumulation and bush encroachment. These successional changes result in (yet) reversible decrease of biodiversity. To facilitate biodiversity conservation by restoration of the abandoned open and semi-open habitats, European bison, (semi)wild horses (mostly Exmoor ponies), and semi-wild cattle (e.g. Tauros) are being introduced to former farmlands and military training areas throughout Europe. Although the naturalistic grazing by large herbivores obviously promotes biodiversity in economically sound way, scientific research on outputs of this increasingly widespread practice remains surprisingly scarce. The symposium provides summary of existing scientific evidence on methodological aspects and biological outputs of naturalistic grazing schemes in Central Europe. For the very first time, both botanical and zoological lines of scientific evidence, together with practical experience, confront critically the naturalistic grazing landscape management with challenges of our over-bureaucratic world facing unprecedented global changes. While biological, technical, and animal welfare requirements are clearly met by naturalistic grazing practice, the legislative frame of existing grazing reserves remains unsecure at best. Are we on our way to promote or doom this promising way of nature conservation and land use?