, Volume 185, Issue 7, pp 5823-5836,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 11 Nov 2012

Effects of visitor pressure on understory vegetation in Warsaw forested parks (Poland)


Visitor’s access to understorey vegetation in park forest stands results in the impoverishment of plant species composition and a reduction in habitat quality. The phenomenon of biotic homogenisation is typical in urban landscapes, but it can proceed differently depending on the scale, a detail that has not been observed in previous studies. This research was carried out in seven Warsaw parks (both public and restricted access). Thirty-four forested areas were randomly selected, some subjected to strong visitors’ pressure and some within restricted access areas, free of such impacts. The latter category included woodlands growing in old forest and secondary habitats. Public access to the study areas contributed to the disappearance of some forest species and their replacement by cosmopolitan non-forest species, leading to loss of floristic biodiversity in areas of high ecological importance at the city scale. Some human-induced factors, including soil compaction and changes in soil pH, moisture and capillary volume, were found to cause habitat changes that favoured native non-forest plants. Despite changes in species composition, the taxonomic similarity of understorey vegetation in both categories—public access and restricted access—was comparable. In a distance gradient of measurements taken around selected individual trees, there was found to be significant variation (in light, soil pH and compaction) affecting the quality and quantity of understorey vegetation (including rare species). In conclusion, the protection of rare forest species could be achieved by limiting access to forested areas, particularly in old forest fragments, and we highly recommend its consideration in the proposal of future park restoration plans.