Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 23, Issue 9, pp 2273–2287 | Cite as

The Hitchhiker’s guide to island endemism: biodiversity and endemic perennial plant species in roadside and surrounding vegetation

  • Severin D. H. IrlEmail author
  • Manuel J. Steinbauer
  • Lilith Epperlein
  • David E. V. Harter
  • Anke Jentsch
  • Susanne Pätz
  • Christian Wohlfart
  • Carl Beierkuhnlein
Original Paper


Roadsides are habitats with very specific environmental conditions, often substantially differing from their natural surroundings. However, roads can have a positive effect on local vascular plant species richness. Endemic species on oceanic islands are considered to be less disturbance-adapted than native non-endemics and thus should be negatively affected by roads. Islands provide optimal conditions for testing this, as they possess a large share of clearly defined endemic species. This study focuses on a comparison of endemic plant species in roadside and surrounding communities and the interacting effects of elevation, vegetation type and trade wind-induced precipitation differences. We applied 96 circular plots with 50 m radius along two elevational gradients on the eastern (humid) and western (dry) slope of La Palma, Canary Islands, ranging from 100 to 2,400 m. Interestingly, we found roads to have a significant positive effect on endemic richness and the percentage of endemics as well as the same tendency for plant species richness after correcting for elevation and precipitation. Endemic species turnover was relatively high. The opening of cliffs during construction and, not to be overlooked, the protection from disturbances such as fire and omnipresent introduced herbivores (mainly rabbits or goats) probably leads to a positive effect of roads on endemics. In addition, many endemics might profit from species-specific dispersal capabilities well suited for roadside conditions. However, we do not argue for the use or even construction of roads for nature conservation but suggest protecting existing endemic populations because natural areas have a higher conservation value.


Road ecology Disturbance Vascular plant species Endemic richness Elevational gradient Canary Islands 



We would like to express our gratitude to the Bavarian Elite Network and especially the Global Change Ecology study program for funding this project. Dr. Félix Medina of the Consejería de Medio Ambiente del Cabildo Insular de La Palma has been very supportive of this project and we would like to thank him for supplying us with the high-resolution DEM of La Palma.

Supplementary material

10531_2014_722_MOESM1_ESM.doc (93 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 93 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Severin D. H. Irl
    • 1
    Email author
  • Manuel J. Steinbauer
    • 2
  • Lilith Epperlein
    • 2
  • David E. V. Harter
    • 2
  • Anke Jentsch
    • 1
  • Susanne Pätz
    • 1
  • Christian Wohlfart
    • 2
  • Carl Beierkuhnlein
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Disturbance EcologyUniversity of BayreuthBayreuthGermany
  2. 2.Department of BiogeographyUniversity of BayreuthBayreuthGermany

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