Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 25, Issue 14, pp 3023–3041 | Cite as

Hybrid ecosystems can contribute to local biodiversity conservation

  • Liis KasariEmail author
  • Liina Saar
  • Francesco de Bello
  • Krista Takkis
  • Aveliina Helm
Original Paper
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Biodiversity protection and reserves


Calcareous grasslands have become severely threatened habitats in Europe. The aim of this study was to investigate the changes in plant species richness, and functional and phylogenetic diversity in northern Estonian calcareous (alvar) grasslands resampled after 90 years of land-use change. Functional traits characterizing species that have benefited most from decreased habitat area and altered environmental conditions, and additional species that can potentially inhabit the remaining grassland patches were identified. Also changes in the relative amount of habitat-specific species were studied to detect a possible decrease in habitat integrity. Although grasslands in the studied region had lost most of their original area (~90 %), species richness had substantially increased due to invasion by more competitive, nutrient-demanding native species. Functional diversity generally increased, whereas phylogenetic diversity showed no response to altered conditions. Overall, these grasslands have lost their integrity as calcareous grassland habitat type in the region, because the relative amount of habitat-specific characteristic species has declined significantly. However, although the grasslands have transformed to a ‘hybrid’ habitat type and restoration to their previous state is likely not reasonable, such degraded species-rich grassland fragments can still be recognized as important habitats to preserve high local biodiversity and several characteristic species of calcareous grasslands. As current landscapes consist of an increasing number of hybrid and novel communities, new tools to supplement traditional conservation or restoration practices are necessary to recognize and maintain regions and habitats of high local biodiversity.


Calcareous grassland Dark diversity Functional diversity Habitat integrity Native ‘aliens’ Phylogenetic diversity 



We are grateful to Pille Gerhold for helping with phylogenetic methods, and for comments and ideas on earlier drafts. We also thank Robert Szava-Kovats for English language editing, and two anonymous reviewers for constructive and helpful comments. LK, LS, KT and AH were financed by the Estonian Research Council (ETF 9223), by Estonian Ministry of Education and Research (IUT 20-29) and by European Commission through the European Regional Development Fund (Centre of Excellence EcolChange). FdB was supported by the Czech Science Foundation, grant GA16-15012S.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Botany, Institute of Ecology and Earth SciencesUniversity of TartuTartuEstonia
  2. 2.Institute of BotanyCzech Academy of SciencesTřeboňCzech Republic
  3. 3.Department of Botany, Faculty of ScienceUniversity of South BohemiaČeské BudějoviceCzech Republic

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