, Volume 22, Issue 5, pp 723-730
Date: 13 Jan 2007

Effects of historical and present fragmentation on plant species diversity in semi-natural grasslands in Swedish rural landscapes

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Abstract

Habitat loss and fragmentation of natural and semi-natural habitats are considered as major threats to plant species richness. Recently several studies have pinpointed the need to analyse past landscape patterns to understand effects of fragmentation, as the response to landscape change may be slow in many organisms, plants in particular. We compared species richness in continuously grazed and abandoned grasslands in different commonplace rural landscapes in Sweden, and analysed effects of isolation and area in three time-steps (100 and 50 years ago and today). Old cadastral maps and aerial photographs were used to analyse past and present landscape patterns in 25 sites. Two plant diversity measures were investigated; total species richness and species density. During the last 100 years grassland area and connectivity have been reduced by about 90%. Present-day habitat area was positively related to total species richness in both habitats. There was also a relationship to habitat area 50 years ago for continuously grazed grasslands. Only present management was related to species density: continuously grazed grasslands had the highest species density. There were no relationships between grassland connectivity, present or past, and any diversity measure. We conclude that landscape history is not directly important for present-day plant diversity patterns in ordinary landscapes, although past grassland management is a prerequisite for the grassland habitats that can be found there today. It is important that studies are conducted, not only in very diverse landscapes, but also in managed landscapes in order to assess the effects of fragmentation on species.