Species richness, abundance, rarity and environmental gradients in coastal barren vegetation

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s10531-008-9539-5

Cite this article as:
Oberndorfer, E.C. & Lundholm, J.T. Biodivers Conserv (2009) 18: 1523. doi:10.1007/s10531-008-9539-5


Coastal barrens in Nova Scotia are heathlands characterised by short, predominantly ericaceous vegetation, sparse tree cover, exposed bedrock, pockets of Sphagnum bog, and stressful climatic conditions. Although coastal barrens are prominent in the physical and cultural landscape, they are largely unprotected. We selected six barrens along the Atlantic coast, and surveyed 20 1-m2 plots at each barren for vascular plants, macrolichens, mosses and environmental factors. We recorded 173 species (105 vascular, 41 macrolichen, 27 moss), including six provincially rare vascular species found predominantly in nearshore areas with high levels of substrate salt and nutrients, variable substrate depth, and short vegetation. Although vascular plant and moss richness were similarly correlated with vegetation height, substrate depth, organic matter content, and rock exposure, there were no clear correlations between vascular plant, macrolichen and moss richness across all sites. Vascular plant rarity and species richness were not correlated, but had inverse relationships with key environmental gradients. Tailoring conservation efforts to protect areas of high richness may thus mean that rare species are missed, and vice versa. Ordination and ANOSIM show that barrens vegetation differs widely among sites; therefore, protecting any singular coastal barren will not protect the entire range of vegetation communities and species in this heathland type. Conservation planning should emphasize protecting environmental gradients correlated with richness, rarity and plant community structure, including substrate depth and moisture, and vegetation height. Additionally, protected areas should include a coastal-inland gradient and a diversity of substrate types, including exposed rock and trees.


HeathlandDetrended correspondence analysisLichenMossEmpetrumShrubland



Detrended correspondence analysis


Analysis of similarities


Principal components analysis


Coefficient of variation


Off-highway vehicle

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Biology DepartmentSaint Mary’s UniversityHalifaxCanada
  2. 2.MontrealCanada
  3. 3.Biology Department/Environmental Studies ProgramSaint Mary’s UniversityHalifaxCanada