Combining unmanned aerial vehicles and a mesocosm experiment to unveil plant communities shifts under global change conditions in coastal meadows


On November 22nd starting at 11:15 doctoral student Thaisa Fernandes Bergamo will be defending her thesis „Combining unmanned aerial vehicles and a mesocosm experiment to unveil plant communities shifts under global change conditions in coastal meadows."

Semi-natural grasslands are an essential part of the cultural landscape of Europe. Semi-natural grasslands are commonly characterised by a very high biodiversity, including rare species. Beyond the high biodiversity value, semi-natural grasslands worldwide provide many ecosystem services, including: carbon sequestration and storage, nutrient cycling, regulation of soil quality, habitats for migrating birds, erosion control, and flood regulation.

Within the realm of semi-natural grasslands, coastal meadows are particularly important. However, coastal grasslands are threatened by a range of factors such as coastal squeeze, transformation into monoculture ponds, pollution, and climate change. Coastal areas are threatened at a range of spatial scales as a result of sea-level rise, and can include higher flooding frequency in coastal areas, salt water intrusion in aquifers, and potential declines in the extent of coastal wetlands.

A warmer climate also implies a modification in precipitation patterns affecting runoff into the sea. In coastal areas, both water levels and salinity have a strong impact on species distribution and therefore on the structure and composition of aquatic and coastal floral and faunal communities. Consequently, plant communities in coastal meadows are expected to undergo changes in their composition and structure. The current thesis explores different methodologies to assess plant community distribution, above-ground biomass, and the effects of management type, duration, and intensity on sward structure using UAV-derived multispectral data and aerial photogrammetry.

In addition, the keystone of this thesis is a mesocosm experiment that was used to assess shifts in species richness and abundance in plant community types in Estonian coastal meadows related to future change scenarios of water level and salinity for the Baltic Sea. a. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) The use of UAV demonstrated to be able to identify plant community extent and distribution in high biodiversity value coastal meadows in West Estonia. Species diversity and biomass significantly influence the quality of data and this should be accounted for when planning the sample collection to achieve better results.

This study has shown that UAVs are useful tools of mapping grasslands at a plant community level. Also, UAV showed to be possible to reveal the structure of the grassland and how it is affected by the management history. For example, the grassland turns more homogeneous under long-term monospecific grazing, b. Mesoscosm Experiment The mesocosm experiment in the present study revealed different temporal changes of wetland communities to altered salinity and water conditions, highlighting the response of plant species to environmental variables.

These changes were not significant according to alteration of water level and salinity in the Open Pioneer community, but they were over time. On the other hand, Lower Shore and Upper Shore had significant changes according to time and treatments. These could be explained by dynamic differences in the communities, since Open Pioneer was more variable. c. Conclusions Both methodologies, remote sensing and the mesocosm experiment, are evidently important to evaluate the structure and function of Estonian coastal meadows. The mapping of the extent and structure of coastal plant communities allows an evaluation of the current state of the ecosystem.

The mesocosm experiment helps to understand changes in plant community composition under altered conditions of water level and salinity in Estonian coastal meadows and consequently, understand how species richness, abundance, and biomass will respond to those changes. This information is important when considering the protection and potential management of these areas taking into account the species diversity of fauna and flora as well as that of livestock.

Supervisors are Prof. Kalev Sepp, Dr. Raymond D. Ward and Prof. Christopher B. Joyce (University of Brighton), opponent is Prof. Dr. Keith Edwards (University of South Bohemia). Abstract is available in Library of Estonian University of Life Sciences DSpace archive