Migration rates of grassland plants along corridors in fragmented landscapes assessed with a cellular automation model
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This study investigated the efficacy of linear landscape elements in fragmented landscapes as corridors for perennial grassland species with short-range seed dispersal. Corridors are assumed to be essential for the persistence of metapopulations in fragmented landscapes, but it is unclear to what extent linear landscape elements such as ditch banks and road verges can function as corridors for those species. The principal factors that determine the rate of migration through corridors include the width and habitat quality of patches within a corridor (expressed as the population growth rate λ) and the dispersal capacity of plants (expressed as the slope α of the relationship between seed number and log-distance).
A cellular automation model was used to simulate the effects of the principal factors on the rate of migration. Simulations with different levels of the principal factors showed highly significant and positive main effects of dispersal capacity, habitat quality and width of corridors on the migration rate. Significant interactions existed between dispersal capacity × width and dispersal capacity × habitat quality (p<0.0001), indicating that the effects of width and habitat quality depended on the dispersal capacity. In narrow corridors most of the dispersed seeds were deposited outside the corridor, which significantly reduced migration rates, especially for species with long-range dispersal (α=−0.4). In wide corridors (up to 20 m), seed losses were much smaller and migration rates approximated those of continuous habitats. The contribution of the few long-range seeds to the rate of migration was significant when habitat quality was high (population growth rates up to 2.5). However, in all simulations migration rates were very low,i.e.<5 m/yr.
It is concluded that linear landscape elements are not effective corridors in fragmented landscapes for plants with short-range seed dispersal, because migration rates are low (<5 m/yr), landscape elements vary in the percentage of high quality patches, and refugia and suitable habitat patches are frequently several kilometres apart, making a cohesive infrastructure of corridors for plants elusive. It is argued that the best way to conserve endangered plant species that encounter dispersal barriers is to harvest seeds from nearby source populations and introduce them as suitable habitats.
Keywordsseed dispersal migration corridor restoration grassland plants fragmentation
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