, Volume 15, Issue 6, pp 1913-1942

Ecological Predictors of Extinction Risk in the Flora of Lowland England, UK

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Abstract

We used historical and contemporary records to determine the scale of plant extinction in Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire, and to assess whether extinct species share a range of ecological and phytogeographical traits. Since 1700 both counties have lost 94 species (11% of their native floras) with the rate of extinction increasing from 3.8 to 4.8 species per decade in the 19th century to 6–8 species per decade after 1950. The most important predictors of extinction risk were English range size and traits associated with habitat specialisation and competitive ability: poor competitors (i.e. short stress-tolerators) associated with open habitats with very low or high pH and soil moisture (e.g. lowland bogs, dwarf-shrub heath and acid and calcareous grassland) were much more likely to have become extinct in the study region than would have been expected by chance alone. Many of these species have very localised distributions and/or occur at the northern, southern or eastern edges of their range in southern England (i.e. Northern and Oceanic). In contrast, there was no clear or significant relationship between extinction and dispersal ability or reproductive mode. These findings, which parallel national trends, indicate that habitat loss and eutrophication have been the main causes of population extinction in lowland England over the last 300 years. However, more fine-scaled studies are required to assess whether ‘low-level’ stresses, such as habitat fragmentation, climate change and atmospheric pollution, are having additional impacts on populations already severely depleted by habitat loss, as well as to quantify changes in the abundance of more widespread species which are known to have declined over the same period.