Land Use Change in Space and Time : implications for plant species conservation in semi-natural grasslands

University dissertation from Stockholm : Botaniska institutionen

Abstract: Land use change has during the last century altered the traditional rural landscape in Sweden, resulting in a major decline in species diversity. Traditional small-scale farming, with a remarkably high small-scale species richness, has changed in favour of rationalized agriculture, and many semi-natural grasslands, i.e. traditionally managed pastures and meadows, have become abandoned. In this thesis I examine how spatio-temporal processes affect plant species in Swedish semi-natural grasslands exposed to habitat degradation as well as recovery (restoration). I also discuss how to conserve plant species associated with semi-natural grasslands. In general, species responded slowly to habitat degradation, but quickly to improvement of habitat quality. Population viability analysis (PVA) of the grazing favoured herb Primula farinosa suggested, in contrast to historical records, that populations in abandoned grasslands performed better than populations in traditionally managed grasslands, a result questioning the accuracy of PVAs. Restoration of grasslands counteracted species richness decline and the number of species increased within seven years after restoration. It was possible to recruit grassland species in grazed former arable fields by artificial seed-sowing. This may help to speed up the natural recruitment, which often is low due to dispersal limitations in modern fragmented landscapes. Studies at larger regional scales showed century long time-lags in the response of plant species richness to land use change. Species richness was not related to present-day connectivity of grasslands, but positive effects appeared for grassland configuration in 1950s and 1900s. Thus, making conservation guidelines based solely on present-day data may be strongly misleading and under-estimate the actual risk of species loss. To secure long-term survival of species, it is important to focus on processes associated with larger spatial scales. This may benefit natural dynamics at longer time-scales, where abandoned and restored grasslands, together with species-rich semi-natural grasslands, could become natural parts of sustainable landscape management.

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