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Hedgerows as corridors for woodland plants: a test on the Po Plain, northern Italy

Abstract

The use of hedgerows as corridors for forest vascular species has been widely studied, but only in humid oceanic and continental climates; no replicated trials have ever been performed on corridor function. Given these premises, a study was done on the eastern Po Plain, in a transition area between the Temperate (Eurosiberian) and Mediterranean climatic zones, adopting the same sample shape and dimensions as a North-American study [Corbit et al. (1999) J Ecol 87:220–232]. The following research questions were posed: (1) how common are forest species in hedgerows? (2) do origin, isolation, distance from source, width and adjacent land-use factors correlate with the frequency of forest species? (3) are hedgerows corridors for forest species? To address these, three functional types of hedgerows, identified by comparing old aerial-photos, were sampled: remnant attached (n = 12) and remnant isolated (n = 6) with respect to the nearest woodland and regenerated attached (n = 4). If wooded patches were a source for hedgerows, then regenerated hedgerows should be more similar to an adjacent woodland than an isolated remnant. A 900 m2 circular plot in woodlands and an adjacent 90-m transect along hedgerows were sampled for the presence and cover of all plant species, then 39 woodland taxa were selected. Significant differences between the three hedgerow types emerged in forest species richness, but not in cover. The forest species composition in both remnant and regenerated attached hedgerows showed a strong affinity with the adjacent stand, implying a dispersal process from woodland (source) to regenerated hedgerows (sink). A distance effect on forest species distribution clearly linked to a corridor function was found only in regenerated hedgerows, while in the remnant attached ones, even with a composition similar to that of the nearest woodland source, other additional factors cannot be ignored to explain the fine scale distribution of forest species. The cover of the most common ant-dispersed species showed a similar distance effect while vertebrate-dispersed ones did not show any significant trend with distance from woodlands. Habitat suitability for forest species was affected by width, especially in hedges wider than 12 m, but not by adjacent land use.

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Acknowledgements

This paper represents part of a dissertation submitted to Padova University in fulfilment of the requirements for a Ph.D. that was supported financially by a grant from Veneto Agricoltura (Veneto Regional Agency for Forests, Agriculture and Agro-environment). The field work would not have been possible without the assistance of T. Zinato and the help of V. Carraro in recognizing some species. For advice and support during my Ph.D., I am in the first place grateful to my supervisor F. Viola, for his valuable guidance and expertise, then to T. Anfodillo, F. Carrara, D. Cattaneo, M. Lucchin, S. Reniero, P. Semenzato, C. Urbinati and A. Zanella. For criticisms and useful suffestions on the first versions of the manuscript I thank D. McCollin and two anonymous referees. For having provided useful information about the state of the research on ecological corridors for woodland plants in Italy I thank C. Blasi.

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Correspondence to Tommaso Sitzia.

Appendix A

Appendix A

  List of surveyed taxa considered as forest species and used in the analysis. Botanical nomenclature follows Pignatti (1982). aThreatened species in the Veneto lowlands according to Zanetti (1997). bAncient woodland-plant species according to Honnay et al. (1998) and Hermy et al. (1999)

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Sitzia, T. Hedgerows as corridors for woodland plants: a test on the Po Plain, northern Italy. Plant Ecol 188, 235–252 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-006-9159-7

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Keywords

  • Dispersal
  • Isolation
  • Mediterranean climate
  • Replication
  • Vascular forest species