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Forest plant species richness in small, fragmented mixed deciduous forest patches: the role of area, time and dispersal limitation


Hans Jacquemyn Laboratory for Forest, Nature and Landscape Research, University of Leuven, Vital Decosterstraat 102, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium. E-mail:



The research aimed to investigate how plant species richness of small, fragmented forest patches changes over time. Also interactions between time and area were studied in relation to species richness. Finally, the relative importance of plant dispersal limitation on the process of species accumulation was examined by investigating how species were distributed within a regional landscape.


Mixed deciduous forest patches in central Belgium.


The land use history of a region of 80 km2 was reconstructed using nine historical maps dating from 1775 to 1991. Within a central area of 42 km2, 241 forest patches were surveyed for presence/absence of 203 species predominantly occurring in forests. Aggregation of species within this region was estimated using a Monte Carlo simulation. Spatial and temporal patterns of species richness were investigated by both regression and analysis of variance (ANOVA).


Fifty-one of 103 species showed significant spatial aggregation patterns, suggesting severe dispersal limitation. Species richness significantly increased with age. However, the effects of time on species richness could not be separated from area and area and time clearly interacted. Slopes of regression equations for species number on area and patch age were shown to be significantly interrelated.

Main conclusions

Area and time cannot be treated independently as predictors of plant species richness. Dispersal proved to be important in structuring local forest plant community composition, contrary to most other studies that have investigated local forest plant community structure. The processes of forest succession and species accumulation are controlled by both local and regional processes. More studies focusing on the regional factors determining local community composition are needed in order to fully understand the process of forest plant community assembly.