, Volume 212, Issue 7, pp 1213-1229

Effects of road age and distance on plant biodiversity: a case study in the Yellow River Delta of China

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A majority of ecological studies of roads have usually focused on their deleterious effect, and these preconceptions have hampered a full evaluation of ecological functions of roads. We examined the effect of road disturbance on plant communities by investigating roadside vegetation in the protogenic road ecosystem of the Yellow River Delta (YRD), China. Specifically, we examined the effect of distance from the road verge and road age on the pattern of plant species richness, diversity, and composition at 17 sites. The results revealed that roads retained higher species richness adjacent to the road verge than far away from the road verge (>200 m). Additionally, species richness and diversity of roadside plants significantly decreased as the distance from the road verge increased. Plant species richness and diversity increased with road age in majority of prescribed distances, while species richness at the road verge significantly increased with road age and peaked at a road age of 20 years, after which species richness plateaued. A correspondence analysis illuminated that the roadside vegetation primarily consists of non-halophytic native species. The percentage of halophytes increased with the distance from the road verge and decreased with road age. Additionally, different performances of alien and native species in response to road disturbance were observed. Furthermore, it is worth noting that roadside environments provide survival habitats for some threatened species, such as wild soybean. In the present study, both positive and negative effects of roads on the plant community were observed from road construction to the long-term operational phases.