Question: Is plant diversity in fragmented semi-natural grasslands related to present and historical landscape context?
Location: Southern Sweden.
Methods: Plant diversity was described at 30 semi-natural grassland sites in terms of total and specialist plant species richness at the site and species density at different scales (0.5–10 m2). These measures are commonly used to assess conservation value of semi-natural grasslands. Landscape context was measured as contemporary connectivity to other semi-natural grasslands, historical connectivity 50 years ago, amount of linear elements potentially suitable for dispersal (road verges, power line clearings), and amount of forest (inverse of the openness of the landscape).
Results: The diversity measures were generally correlated with each other, implying that species richness in a subset of the grassland can predict the total richness. Plant species density at three scales (0.5 m2, 10 m2 and total) was related to the landscape context using an information theoretic approach. Results showed that total species richness increased with increased size of grasslands, contrary to earlier diversity studies in semi-natural grasslands. Larger grasslands were more heterogeneous than smaller grasslands, and this is a likely reason for the species-area relationship. Heterogeneity was also of high importance at the smaller scales (0.5 m2, 10 m2). With increased amount of forest, total species richness increased but species density on 10 m2 decreased. There was no influence of connectivity in either the contemporary or the historical landscape, contrary to previous studies.
Conclusions: Grassland size and heterogeneity are of greater importance for plant diversity in semi-natural grassland, than grassland connectivity in the landscape.