Habitat fragmentation reduces grassland connectivity for both short-distance and long-distance wind-dispersed forbs

M.B. Soons, J.H. Messelink, E. Jongejans, G.W. Heil

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113 Citations (Scopus)


1 Although habitat loss and fragmentation are assumed to threaten the regional survival of plant species, their effects on regional species dynamics via seed dispersal and colonization have rarely been quantified. 2 We assessed the impact of habitat loss and fragmentation on the connectivity, and hence regional survival, of wind-dispersed plant species of nutrient-poor semi-natural grasslands. We did this using a new approach to relate quantified habitat loss and fragmentation to quantified colonization capacity. 3 We quantified loss and fragmentation during the 20th century of moist, nutrient-poor semi-natural grasslands in study areas in the Netherlands, as well as their current distribution. After testing how well the habitat distribution matches species distributions of two wind-dispersed grassland forbs (Cirsium dissectum, representative of species with long-distance wind dispersal, and Succisa pratensis, representative of species with short-distance wind dispersal), we combined the habitat distribution data with simulated seed dispersal kernels in order to quantify the impact on connectivity. 4 Habitat loss and fragmentation has dramatically reduced both the area (by 99.8%) and the connectivity of the grasslands. The remaining grasslands are practically isolated for seeds dispersed by wind, even for species with high wind dispersal ability (for which, interestingly, connectivity by wind dispersal decreased most). Linear landscape elements hardly contribute to connectivity by wind dispersal. Regional survival of the studied species has become completely dependent on the survival of a few large populations in nature reserves. Other remaining populations are decreasing in number and size and have low colonization capacity. 5 Habitat loss and fragmentation have drastically changed the regional species dynamics of wind-dispersed plant species, indicating that it is of utmost importance to preserve remaining populations in nature reserves and that the probability of colonization of new or restored sites is very low, unless the sites are adjacent to occupied sites or dispersal is artificially assisted.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1214-1225
JournalJournal of Ecology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • scale spatial dynamics
  • seed dispersal
  • landscape connectivity
  • population-dynamics
  • perennial herbs
  • roe deer
  • plants
  • performance
  • size
  • colonization

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