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Effects of increasing landscape heterogeneity on local plant species richness: how much is enough?

Abstract

Contemporary landscape ecology continues to explore the causes and consequences of landscape heterogeneity across a range of scales, and demands for the scientific underpinnings of landscape planning and management still remains high. The spatial distribution of resources can be a key element in determining habitat quality, and that in turn is directly related to the level of heterogeneity in the system. In this sense, forest habitat mosaics may be more affected by lack of heterogeneity than by structural fragmentation. Nonetheless, increasing spatial heterogeneity at a given spatial scale can also decrease habitat patch size, with potential negative consequences for specialist species. Such dual effect may lead to hump-backed shape relationships between species diversity and heterogeneity, leading to three related assumptions: (i) at low levels of heterogeneity, an increase in heterogeneity favours local and regional species richness, (ii) there is an optimum heterogeneity level at which a maximum number of species is reached, (iii) further increase in spatial heterogeneity has a negative effect on local and regional species richness, due to increasing adverse effects of habitat fragmentation. In this study, we investigated the existence of a hump-shaped relationship between local plant species richness and increasing forest landscape heterogeneity on a complex mosaic in the French Alps. Forest landscape heterogeneity was quantified with five independent criteria. We found significant quadratic relationships between local forest species richness and two heterogeneity criteria indicators, showing a slight decrease of forest species richness at very high heterogeneity levels. Species richness–landscape heterogeneity relationships varied according to the heterogeneity metrics involved and the type of species richness considered. Our results support the assumption that intermediate levels of heterogeneity may support more species than very high levels of heterogeneity, although we were not able to conclude for a systematic negative effect of very high levels of heterogeneity on local plant species richness.

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Abbreviations

FSR:

Forest species richness

TSR:

Total species richness

SHFH:

Spatial heterogeneity of forest habitats

CCD:

Canopy composition diversity

SHST:

Spatial heterogeneity of stand types

SCS:

Spatial complementarities of stand structures

ASSC:

Average forest stand structural complexity

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Acknowledgments

This work was financially supported by a graduate student research fellowship to M. Redon from Grenoble University, France and by funds from the FORGECO project (ANR-09-STRA-02-01). We extend our appreciation to the National Forest Office which has provided vector maps of forest stand structures for all public forests in the study area. We also acknowledge Vincent Thierion and Vincent Breton for producing and providing the raster dataset of the Vercors mountain range natural habitats. Special appreciation goes to the National Alpine Botanic Conservatory which provided the vegetation data inventory.

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Correspondence to Sandra Luque.

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Redon, M., Bergès, L., Cordonnier, T. et al. Effects of increasing landscape heterogeneity on local plant species richness: how much is enough?. Landscape Ecol 29, 773–787 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-014-0027-x

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Keywords

  • Intermediate heterogeneity hypothesis
  • Quadratic relationships
  • Understory diversity
  • Mountain forests
  • Forest structural heterogeneity
  • Landscape mosaics
  • Heterogeneity indicators