How well is current plant trait composition predicted by modern and historical forest spatial configuration?

Kimberley, Adam; Blackburn, G. Alan; Whyatt, J. Duncan; Smart, Simon M. ORCID: 2016 How well is current plant trait composition predicted by modern and historical forest spatial configuration? Ecography, 39 (1). 67-76.

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There is increasing evidence to suggest that a delayed response of many forest species to habitat loss and fragmentation leads to the development of extinction debts and immigration credits in affected forest habitat. These time lags result in plant communities which are not well predicted by present day landscape structure, reducing the accuracy of biodiversity assessments and predictions for future change. Here, species richness data and mean values for five life history characteristics within deciduous broadleaved forest habitat across Great Britain were used to quantify the degree to which aspects of present day forest plant composition are best explained by modern or historical forest patch area. Ancient forest specialist richness, mean rarity and mean seed terminal velocity were not well predicted by modern patch area, implying the existence of a degree of lag in British forest patches. Mean seedbank persistence values were more closely related to modern patch area than historical, particularly in larger patches. The variation in response for different mean trait values suggests that species respond to landscape change at different rates depending upon their combinations of different trait states. Current forest understorey communities are therefore likely to consist of a mixture of declining species whose extinction debt is still to be paid, and faster colonising immigrant species. These results indicate that without management action, rare and threatened species of plant are likely to be lost in the future as a result of changes in forest spatial configuration that have already taken place. The lag seen here for rare specialist plants suggests however that there may still be scope to protect such species before they are lost from forest patches.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Parr
ISSN: 0906-7590
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 14 Feb 2017 12:27 +0 (UTC)

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