Large-scale changes in the abundance of common higher plant species across Britain between 1978, 1990 and 1998 as a consequence of human activity: Tests of hypothesised changes in trait representation

S.M. Smart, R.G.H. Bunce, R. Marrs, M. LeDuc, L.G. Firbank, L.C. Maskell, W.A. Scott, K. Thompson, K.J. Walker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

100 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Presence of higher plant species was recorded in 1455 permanently marked quadrats located across Britain in 1978, 1990 and 1998 in a stratified, random sample of 259 1 km squares. Significant increases and decreases in frequency of each species were summarised as changes in the representation of simple traits, each of which had an established relationship with varying levels of fertility or disturbance. By testing the null hypothesis that the trait values represented among increasing or decreasing species were a random draw from the 1978 species pool, we determined the consistency of botanical change with changes in land-use in different vegetation types and landscape locations across Britain. Overall, 63% of significant changes in species occupancy were decreases and 37% increases. Trait changes were largely consistent with the impact of increased nutrient availability across vegetation types associated with inherently low fertility, such as infertile grassland, heath, bog and moorland. Linear habitats in lowland Britain saw trait changes consistent with secondary succession. Although trait changes were highly consistent with eutrophication in upland vegetation, the identity of the changing species left open the possibility that increased N deposition, sheep grazing intensity and local improvement could all have played a part. Recent changes in common plant species across Britain suggest that objectives for large-scale restoration and maintenance of plant communities must address four problems: (a) the increasing scarcity of stress-tolerant species in lowland species pools, (b) exploitation and maintenance of species populations on habitat fragments and linear features in the lowlands, (c) the spread and persistence of generalist species in upland Britain, (d) systemic nutrient enrichment in both lowland and upland environments.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)355-371
JournalBiological Conservation
Volume124
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2005

Keywords

  • southern england
  • functional types
  • land-use
  • agricultural intensification
  • botanical composition
  • nitrogen deposition
  • british vegetation
  • grassland
  • diversity
  • biodiversity

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