Influence of environmental and spatial variables on regional distribution of forest plant species in a fragmented and changing landscape


  • Hans Jacquemyn,

  • Jan Butaye,

  • Martin Hermy

H. Jacquemyn (, J. Butaye and M. Henry, Lab. for Forest, Nature and Landscape Research, Univ. of Leuven, Vital Decosterstraat 102, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium.


During the past several centuries, forests in Europe and large parts of North America have been subject to extensive forest clearance. The last several decades, however, numerous new forest patches have been established onto former agricultural land. As a result, the present forest area often consists of a mixture of small forest patches of different age, area, habitat quality and connectivity embedded within a hostile agricultural landscape. In these patchy landscapes, distribution patterns of plant species may be affected by both regional and local factors, although the relative importance of both is still poorly understood. In this study, we investigated distribution patterns of 113 forest plant species in a fragmented landscape. Species abundances at the regional scale conformed to a clearly unimodal abundance distribution which we believe to be related to 1) environmental heterogeneity due to succession and 2) inequality in migration rates. Patch incidence was significantly related to life form, which in turn was correlated to seed mass and dispersal mechanism. Multiple logistic regressions showed that presence/absence of 59 species studied was significantly affected by patch connectivity, patch area and age for 35, 30 and 34 species, respectively. The results of this study indicate that distribution patterns of forest plant species are influenced by both local and regional factors. Moreover, they also demonstrate that next to spatial aspects of fragmentation, temporal patterns of landscape change may have far-reaching effects on presence/absence patterns of plant species and therefore should be incorporated in studies dealing with regional population structures of plants.