Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 17, Issue 12, pp 3045–3060 | Cite as

Changes in the distribution area of vascular plants in Flanders (northern Belgium): eutrophication as a major driving force

  • W. Van Landuyt
  • L. Vanhecke
  • I. Hoste
  • F. Hendrickx
  • D. Bauwens
Original Paper"


In large parts of Western Europe agricultural intensification after World War II has led to an increased use of fertilisers. The resulting nutrient enrichment (=eutrophication) has a huge impact on the occurrence and distribution of plant species and is one of the main pressures on native plant communities. We used the distribution maps (grid size: 16 km²) of individual plant species, obtained through two consecutive survey projects (1939–1971 and 1972–2004) in Flanders (northern Belgium), to estimate the relative change in their distribution area. The comparison of changes in range size among groups of taxa classified according to habitat preference and Ellenberg indicator values, demonstrated a marked decline in distribution area in species that are characteristic for nutrient-poor habitats. To assess geographic patterns in the change of species assemblages, we calculated the mean Ellenberg N- and R-values for every grid cell during each of both survey periods. Differences between these values were analysed in relation to soil type and estimates of atmospheric nitrogen deposition. The largest shifts in Ellenberg N-values, reflecting a decline of species from nutrient-poor conditions and/or an increase of nitrophilous plants, were observed in areas with nutrient-poor, acid sandy soils and high nitrogen deposition rates. Hence, shifts in species composition were modulated by geographic variation in soil type and levels of nitrogen deposition. As the levels of atmospheric nitrogen deposition are still very high in Flanders, it is likely that species from nutrient-poor habitats such as heathlands, will further decline in the near future.


Vascular plants Atlas data Change Nitrogen deposition Eutrophication Ellenberg Belgium 



We thank David Aplin, Quintin Groom of the National Botanic Garden of Belgium and two anonymous reviewers for commenting on drafts of this paper and David Aplin and Quintin Groom for correction of the English grammar. We also thank all the volunteer botanists who gathered the data on plant distribution in the field.

Supplementary material

10531_2008_9415_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (51 kb)
MOESM1 (PDF 51 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • W. Van Landuyt
    • 1
  • L. Vanhecke
    • 2
  • I. Hoste
    • 2
  • F. Hendrickx
    • 3
  • D. Bauwens
    • 1
  1. 1.Research Institute for Nature and Forest (INBO)BrusselsBelgium
  2. 2.National Botanic Garden of BelgiumMeiseBelgium
  3. 3.Terrestrial Ecology Unit, Biology DepartmentGhent UniversityGhentBelgium

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