Effects of trampling limitation on coastal dune plant communities

Sandy coastlines are sensitive ecosystems where human activities can have considerable negative impacts. In particular, trampling by beach visitors is a disturbance that affects dune vegetation both at the species and community level. In this study we assess the effects of the limitation of human trampling on dune vegetation in a coastal protected area of Central Italy. We compare plant species diversity in two recently fenced sectors with that of an unfenced area (and therefore subject to human trampling) using rarefaction curves and a diversity/dominance approach during a two year study period. Our results indicate that limiting human trampling seems to be a key factor in driving changes in the plant diversity of dune systems. In 2007 the regression lines of species abundance as a function of rank showed steep slopes and high Y-intercept values in all sectors, indicating a comparable level of stress and dominance across the entire study site. On the contrary, in 2009 the regression lines of the two fenced sectors clearly diverge from that of the open sector, showing less steep slopes. This change in the slopes of the tendency lines, evidenced by the diversity/dominance diagrams and related to an increase in species diversity, suggests the recovery of plant communities in the two fences between 2007 and 2009. In general, plant communities subject to trampling tended to be poorer in species and less structured, since only dominant and tolerant plant species persisted. Furthermore, limiting trampling appears to have produced positive changes in the dune vegetation assemblage after a period of only two years. These results are encouraging for the management of coastal dune systems. They highlight how a simple and cost-effective management strategy, based on passive recovery conservation measures (i.e., fence building), can be a quick (1–2 years) and effective method for improving and safeguarding the diversity of dune plant communities.

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