Question: Which are the plant functional groups respondcing most clearly to agricultural disturbances? Which are the relative roles of habitat availability, landscape configuration and agricultural land use intensity in affecting the functional composition and diversity of vascular plants in agricultural landscapes?
Location: 25 agricultural landscape areas in seven European countries.
Methods: We examined the plant species richness and abundance in 4 km × 4 km landscape study sites. The plant functional group classification was derived from the BIOLFLOR database. Factorial decomposition of functional groups was applied.
Results: Natural habitat availability and low land use intensity supported the abundance and richness of perennials, sedges, pteridophytes and high nature quality indicator species. The abundance of clonal species, C and S strategists was also correlated with habitat area. An increasing density of field edges explained a decrease in richness of high nature quality species and an increase in richness of annual graminoids. Intensive agriculture enhanced the richness of annuals and low nature quality species.
Conclusions: Habitat patch availability and habitat quality are the main drivers of functional group composition and plant species richness in European agricultural landscapes. Linear elements do not compensate for the loss of habitats, as they mostly support disturbance tolerant generalist species. In order to conserve vascular plant species diversity in agricultural landscapes, the protection and enlargement of existing patches of (semi-) natural habitats appears to be more effective than relying on the rescue effect of linear elements. This should be done in combination with appropriate agricultural management techniques to limit the effect of agrochemicals to the fields.
Nomenclature: Tutin et al. (2001).