Paying the colonization credit: converging plant species richness in ancient and post-agricultural forests in NE Germany over five decades
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- Kolk, J., Naaf, T. & Wulf, M. Biodivers Conserv (2017) 26: 735. doi:10.1007/s10531-016-1271-y
Massive historical land cover changes in the Central European lowlands have resulted in a forest distribution that now comprises small remnants of ancient forests and more recently established post-agricultural forests. Here, land-use history is considered a key driver of recent herb-layer community changes, where an extinction debt in ancient forest remnants and/or a colonization credit in post-agricultural forests are being paid over time. On a regional scale, these payments should in theory lead toward a convergence in species richness between ancient and post-agricultural forests over time. In this study, we tested this assumption with a resurvey of 117 semi-permanent plots in the well-studied deciduous forests of the Prignitz region (Brandenburg, NE Germany), where we knew that the plant communities of post-agricultural stands exhibit a colonization credit while the extinction debt in ancient stands has largely been paid. We compared changes in the species richness of all herb layer species, forest specialists and ancient forest indicator species between ancient and post-agricultural stands with linear mixed effect models and determined the influence of patch connectivity on the magnitude of species richness changes. Species richness increased overall, but the richness of forest specialists increased significantly more in post-agricultural stands and was positively influenced by higher patch connectivity, indicating a convergence in species richness between the ancient and post-agricultural stands. Furthermore, the richness of ancient forest indicator species only increased significantly in post-agricultural stands. For the first time, we were able to verify a gradual payment of the colonization credit in post-agricultural forest stands using a comparison of actual changes in temporal species richness.