, Volume 21, Issue 7, pp 1109-1118

Landscape factors and regional differences in recovery rates of herb layer richness in Flanders (Belgium)

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Abstract

The recovery of understory plants in recent forests is critical for evaluating the overall capacity of landscapes to maintain plant biodiversity. Here we used a large data set of vegetation plots from the Flemish Forest Inventory in combination with maps of forest history and soil-based Potential Natural Vegetation to evaluate regional differences in the rate of recovery of understory plant diversity in three regions of Flanders, Belgium. We expressed the degree of recovery in recent forests using the species richness of ancient forests as a reference point, and found strong differences among regions in the average level of recovery. These differences appeared to be due to regional variation in average patch connectivity and age (ultimately stemming from differences in land use history) and – to a lesser extent – environmental conditions. We also found an increase in the proportional representation of vertebrate dispersed species and species with short-distance dispersal with increasing levels of recovery. Our results highlight the potential drivers of inter-regional variation in the process of recovery of plant diversity during restoration, and they emphasize the importance of historical and spatial context in the recovery process.