REGARDS – REsilience of marginal GrAsslands and biodiveRsity management Decision Support

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Lautaret, the upper Romanche valley, France

The Lautaret site is set on the south facing slopes of the valley above the village of Villar d’Arčne in the central French Alps (45.04°N, 6.34°E). It covers 1292 hectares at the headwaters of the Romanche River. The climate is sub-alpine with a strong continental influence due to a rain shadow effect with respect to dominant westerly winds. The current landscape is dominated by grassland ecosystems that are still used by a small, but nevertheless active farming community based on sheep and cattle rearing for lamb and steer production. At the lower altitudes (1650-2000 m) former arable fields have been abandoned and subsequently converted to terraced grasslands used for hay or grazing. At mid-slope (1800-2200 m) ancient, never ploughed hay meadows are increasingly converted to light summer grazing by sheep or cattle. Some are no longer cut or grazed at all. Upper slopes (2200-2500 m) are grazed by transhumant flocks through summer. Previous studies at the site have established a large data base of botanical composition, plant functional traits, soil characteristics and a range of ecosystem properties (biomass production, litter decomposition, nitrogen stocks and fluxes…) for 60 permanent plots distributed across land use trajectories and altitude.

The Lautaret site is located in the buffer zone of the Ecrins National Park and receives many thousands of visitors annually attracted by opportunities for outdoor recreation, the spectacular mountain setting, and its abundant and diverse fauna and flora. Indeed, tourism has taken over agriculture as the dominant economic activity. Former arable land has given the landscape a unique distinctiveness in the form of terraced slopes extending up to 2000 m above sea level. This ”heritage“ of the former land-use system makes this cultural landscape the focus of numerous preservation efforts including subsidies to the remaining farmers.

Meije tractor
Grasslands in front of the Meije mountain at Lautaret

Cultural landscape
Landscape of the upper Romanche valley at Lautaret

REGARDS is funded by the following organisations

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