, Volume 27, Issue 2, pp 199-209
Date: 10 Sep 2011

Determinants of actual functional connectivity for calcareous grassland communities linked by rotational sheep grazing

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In fragmented landscapes, plant species persistence depends on functional connectivity in terms of pollen flow to maintain genetic diversity within populations, and seed dispersal to re-colonize habitat patches following local extinction. Connectivity in plants is commonly modeled as a function of the physical distance between patches, without testing alternative dispersal vectors. In addition, pre- and post-dispersal processes such as seed production and establishment are likely to affect patch colonization rates. Here, we test alternative models of potential functional connectivity with different assumptions on source patch effects (patch area and species occupancy) and dispersal (relating to distance among patches, matrix composition, and sheep grazing routes) against empirical patch colonization rates at the community level (actual functional connectivity), accounting for post-dispersal effects in terms of structural elements providing regeneration niches for establishment. Our analyses are based on two surveys in 1989 and in 2009 of 48 habitat specialist plants in 62 previously abandoned calcareous grassland patches in the Southern Franconian Alb in Bavaria, Germany. The best connectivity model S i , as identified by multi-model inference, combined distance along sheep grazing routes including consistently and intermittently grazed patches with mean species occupancy in 1989 as a proxy for pre-dispersal effects. Community-level patch colonization rates depended to equal degrees on connectivity and post-dispersal process. Our study highlights that actual functional connectivity of calcareous grassland communities cannot be approximated by structural connectivity based on physical distance alone, and modeling of functional connectivity needs to consider pre- and post-dispersal processes.