Humped-back shaped response of plant species richness to increasing shrub encroachment in calcareous grasslands

Abstract

In the present study, we examined the effect of shrub encroachment in temperate semi-natural grasslands on plant species diversity. We tested the hypothesis that an initial shrub encroachment leads to enhanced habitat heterogeneity and thereby to a higher diversity. In a calcareous grassland near Göttingen (Germany) we analysed the effect of shrub encroachment on the species richness in 30, 100 m2 plots each with 10 subplots of 1m2 size. The 30 main plots belonged to six different shrub encroachment classes. A descriptive correlative gradient analysis of shrub invaded grasslands and their species number of flowering plants was performed. Within the 30 plots of different shrub encroachment a total of 203 plant species were recorded. The mean α1-diversity (level of subplots), mean α2-diversity (level of plots) as well as the α3-diversity (level of shrub encroachment classes) have their highest values at medium shrub invaded sites. This finding is in line with our hypothesis of a hump-back relation between shrub encroachment and species richness, and can be explained by the increased habitat heterogeneity. However, Detrended Correspondence Analysis (DCA) emphasized the importance of the present vegetation composition for species richness. The dominance of highly competitive, clonal-growing grass species is accompanied by low diversity swards with a lower facilitation of shrub establishment. Species accumulation curves highlight the benefit of shrub encroachment for γ-(landscape-) diversity. This result emphasises the importance of habitat heterogeneity for biodiversity and, therefore, nature conservation.

Abbreviations

DCA:

Detrended Correspondence Analysis

GLM:

Generalized Linear Model

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Correspondence to U. Petersen.

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Kesting, S., Petersen, U. & Isselstein, J. Humped-back shaped response of plant species richness to increasing shrub encroachment in calcareous grasslands. COMMUNITY ECOLOGY 16, 189–195 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1556/168.2015.16.2.6

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Keywords

  • α-diversity
  • γ-diversity
  • Habitat heterogeneity
  • Semi-natural grassland
  • Shrub cover
  • Shrub invasion
  • Species accumulation curve