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Colonization Credit in Restored Wet Heathlands


S. Cristofoli, email


Although human-driven landscape modification is generally characterized by habitat destruction and fragmentation, it may also result in the creation of new habitat patches, providing conditions conducive to spontaneous colonization. In this article, we propose the concept of “colonization credit” (i.e., the number of species yet to colonize a patch, following landscape changes) as a framework to evaluate the success of colonization, in terms of species richness, in new/restored habitats, taking into account the spatial structure of landscapes. The method mirrors similar approaches used to estimate extinction debt in the context of habitat fragmentation, that is, comparisons, between old and new habitat patches, of the relationships among spatial patch metrics and patch species richness. We applied our method to the case of spontaneous colonization of newly created habitat patches suitable for wet heathland plant communities in South Belgium. Colonization credit was estimated for the total species richness, the specialist species richness, and the species richness of three emergent groups (EGs) of specialist species, delineated on the basis of dispersal traits. No significant colonization credit was identified either in patches created 25–55 years ago or in those created within the past 25 years, with the exception of species from our first EG (mostly anemochorous species with long-term persistent seed bank). However, the differential response of species in that first EG could not be explained through their characteristic life history traits. The results of this study are encouraging and suggest that deliberate, directed restoration activities could yield positive developments in a relatively short period of time.