Most semi-natural open habitats in Europe have been traditionally maintained by anthropogenic activities, such as grazing or mowing, preventing the establishment of woody vegetation. These habitats harbour a remarkably rich biodiversity in terms of both plant and animal species, but are also highly threatened, mainly by agricultural intensification and land abandonment. With this Editorial we introduce a Special Issue initiated by the European Dry Grassland Group (EDGG) at the Open Landscapes Conference (Hildesheim, 2013) and the 11th European Dry Grassland Meeting (Kulikovo Pole, 2014). We aim to give a short introduction to the current conservation status, significance and research of semi-natural open habitats in Europe and present the collected articles of the Special Issue. These papers cover a wide range of different semi-natural open habitats, including wood-pastures, heathlands, steppes, semi-dry and dry grasslands across the Palearctic region and address issues related to the assessment methods, threats, management and restoration of these habitats. We conclude that, in order to ensure their conservation and to monitor the changes in open habitats, integrative approaches are needed that take into account not only vegetation records, but also multiple animal taxa, abiotic factors, management practices, ecosystem services and modelling simulations for anticipating possible future scenarios. We also recommend that decision-makers should support actions to conserve open habitats in Europe by addressing such major challenges as the encroachment of woody vegetation. We are convinced that the present Special Issue will contribute to a better understanding of ecosystem functions and support the biodiversity conservation and management of semi-natural open habitats.