Grassland connectivity by motor vehicles and grazing livestock


A. G. Auffret, Dept of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology, Stockholm Univ., SE-10691 Stockholm, Sweden. E-mail:


In addition to habitat loss and fragmentation, agricultural change has led to a change in seed dispersal processes in the rural landscape through a loss of structural and functional connectivity. Here, human-mediated dispersal vectors are prevalent, and we explored whether the loss of connectivity via free-ranging livestock could be mitigated by the increase in roads and motor vehicles. We found that structurally, 39% of all valuable semi-natural grassland habitats in southern Sweden are adjacent to public road verges, which in the rural landscape are often considered to be suitable habitat for grassland species. Additionally, by collecting mud attached to cars and farming machinery and manure from livestock (cattle, horse, sheep) grazing semi-natural grassland pasture, we found that motor vehicles are also capable seed dispersers. A similar number of species were dispersed by both vectors, although the composition of samples was quite different. Motor vehicles dispersed more grassland specialists than invasive species, although in much lower abundances than did grazing livestock. Despite these differences, motor vehicles were found to be able to disperse species with the same kinds of dispersal traits as livestock. A high number of seeds, species and specialists in manure samples means that greater movement of livestock is desirable to increase functional grassland connectivity. However, effective management could improve the suitability of roadsides as grassland corridors and increase the availability of seeds for long-distance human-mediated dispersal via cars and tractors. Our results suggest that in many rural landscapes, connectivity by road networks could help mediate habitat loss and fragmentation of grasslands. However, such effects can be context dependent, and the connectivity provided by roads could have serious negative consequences in other regions.