Size-related deterioration of semi-natural grassland fragments in Sweden



Abstract. One of the most dramatic landscape changes during the 20th century in Sweden, like in most of Europe, has been the reduction and fragmentation of semi-natural grasslands. Using a set of remnant semi-natural grasslands, chosen to be as similar as possible, but differing in size, we have examined whether size of remnant fragments of traditionally managed semi-natural grasslands in Sweden is related to patterns of species richness and composition. We focused on edge-to-interior relationships, since we expected that a possible impact from invasive habitat generalists would be manifested in a gradient from the edge of fragments to their interior. We found no relationship between size of grassland fragments and (a) overall species richness, (b) species richness at different spatial scales, and (c) abundance of some typical invader species or species characteristic of semi-natural grasslands. However, the results indicated that larger grasslands have a comparatively larger number of species in the edges, whereas the opposite pattern was found in smaller grasslands. The similarity in species composition between the edge and the interior of the pastures also increased with grassland size. Thus, even though the overall species richness is still unaffected by reduction in grassland fragment size, the edges of smaller grasslands show signs of degradation, i.e. reduction in species richness and a decreased similarity to the grassland interior. We suggest that these kinds of effects may be early signs of fragmentation effects that in the future will result in species loss even if the present distribution of semi-natural grasslands is maintained.