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Changes in hedgerow floral diversity over 70 years in an English rural landscape, and the impacts of management

Biological Conservation


Hedgerows provide key habitat and refuges for wildlife in otherwise intensively-managed landscapes, and may play a role in connecting increasingly fragmented habitats. However, the processes governing changes to the floral biodiversity of hedges are poorly understood. We analysed a unique, long-term data set of plant species richness over a 70 year period at 357 hedgerow sites in southern England to quantify changes in alpha, beta and gamma diversity, and identify the role of hedge management and other possible drivers of change. Alpha diversity increased in hedgerows, while a reduction in beta diversity was indicated by taxonomic homogenisation, whereby previously distinct communities of species become more similar to one another over time. Changes in the regional species pool (gamma diversity) differed with plant life-history; it increased for woody species but decreased among herbaceous hedge species. Hedgerow communities shifted towards species associated with higher soil fertility, a more competitive ecological strategy and, in unmanaged hedgerows, greater shade tolerance. Probable drivers for these changes include the move from traditional forms of management such as coppicing and hedge-laying towards either no management or frequent cutting with a mechanical flail, and eutrophication. The extent of changes in plant diversity over time was determined by both historical and recent hedgerow management, but these management effects varied with plant life-history attributes. However, changes in hedge quality and floral diversity were not linked directly to a 60% increase in the proportion of land use categories classified as 'intensive' adjacent to the sites over the 70 years. Recommendations are made for future hedgerow management based on conservation objectives for specific groups of hedge plant species. (C) 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Author(s): Staley, JT; Bullock, JM; Baldock, KCR; Redhead, JW; Hooftman, DAP; Button, N; Pywell, RF

Journal: Biological Conservation

Year: 2013


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