• Open Access

High value of short rotation coppice plantations for phytodiversity in rural landscapes

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Abstract

The demand for wood from short rotation coppice (SRC) plantations as a renewable energy source is currently increasing and could affect biodiversity in agricultural areas. The objective was to evaluate the contribution of SRC plantations to phytodiversity in agricultural landscapes assessed as species richness, species–area relationships, Shannon indices, detrended correspondence analysis on species composition, Sørensen similarities, habitat preference proportions, and species proportions found in only one land use. Vegetation surveys were conducted on 12 willow (Salix spp.) and three poplar (Populus spp.) coppice sites as well as on surrounding arable lands, grasslands and forests in central Sweden and northern Germany. SRC plantations were richer in plant species (mean: 30 species per 100 m²) than arable land (10), coniferous forests (13) and mixed forests in Germany (12). Comparing SRC plantations with other land uses, we found lowest similarities in species composition with arable lands, coniferous forests and German mixed forests and highest similarities with marginal grassland strips, grasslands and Swedish mixed forests. Similarity depended on the SRC tree cover: at increased tree cover, SRC plantations became less similar to grasslands but more similar to forests. The SRC plantations were composed of a mixture of grassland (33%), ruderal (24%) and woodland (15%) species. Species abundance in SRC plantations was more heterogeneous than in arable lands. We conclude that SRC plantations form novel habitats leading to different plant species composition compared to conventional land uses. Their landscape-scale value for phytodiversity changes depending on harvest cycles and over time. As a structural landscape element, SRC plantations contribute positively to phytodiversity in rural areas, especially in land use mosaics where these plantations are admixed to other land uses with dissimilar plant species composition such as arable land, coniferous forest and, at the German sites, also mixed forest.

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