Effect of habitat area and isolation on plant trait distribution in European forests and grasslands


R. Lindborg, Dept of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology, Stockholm Univ., SE–10691 Stockholm, Sweden. E-mail: regina.lindborg@natgeo.su.se


A number of studies show contrasting results in how plant species with specific life-history strategies respond to fragmentation, but a general analysis on whether traits affect plant species occurrences in relation to habitat area and isolation has not been performed. We used published data from forests and grasslands in north-central Europe to analyse if there are general patterns of sensitivity to isolation and dependency of area for species using three traits: life-span, clonality, and seed weight. We show that a larger share of all forest species was affected by habitat isolation and area as compared to grassland species. Persistence-related traits, life-span and clonality, were associated to habitat area and the dispersal and recruitment related trait, seed weight, to isolation in both forest and grassland patches. Occurrence of clonal plant species decreased with habitat area, opposite to non-clonal plant species, and long-lived plant species decreased with grassland area. The directions of these responses partly challenge some earlier views, suggesting that further decrease in habitat area will lead to a change in plant species community composition, towards relatively fewer clonal and long-lived plants with large seeds in small forest patches and fewer clonal plants with small seeds in small grassland patches. It is likely that this altered community has been reached in many fragmented European landscapes consisting of small and isolated natural and semi-natural patches, where many non-clonal and short-lived species have already disappeared. Our study based on a large-scale dataset reveals general and useful insights concerning area and isolation effects on plant species composition that can improve the outcome of conservation and restoration efforts of plant communities in rural landscapes.