Homogenization of forest plant communities and weakening of species–environment relationships via agricultural land use


Mark Vellend, University of British Columbia, Departments of Botany and Zoology, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada (fax +1 604 822 6089; e-mail mvellend@interchange.ubc.ca).


  • 1Disturbance may cause community composition across sites to become more or less homogenous, depending on the importance of different processes involved in community assembly. In north-eastern North America and Europe local (alpha) diversity of forest plants is lower in forests growing on former agricultural fields (recent forests) than in older (ancient) forests, but little is known about the influence of land-use history on the degree of compositional differentiation among sites (beta diversity).
  • 2Here we analyse data from 1446 sites in ancient and recent forests across 11 different landscapes in north-eastern North America and Europe to demonstrate decreases in beta diversity and in the strength of species–environment relationships in recent vs. ancient forests.
  • 3The magnitude of environmental variability among sites did not differ between the two forest types. This suggests the difference in beta diversity between ancient and recent forests was not due to different degrees of environmental heterogeneity, but rather to dispersal filters that constrain the pool of species initially colonizing recent forests.
  • 4The observed effects of community homogenization and weakened relationships between species distributions and environmental gradients appear to persist for decades or longer. The legacy of human land-use history in spatial patterns of biodiversity may endure, both within individual sites and across sites, for decades if not centuries.