Skip to main content

The effect of hedgerow density on habitat quality distorts species-area relationships and the analysis of extinction debts in hedgerows

Landscape Ecology


Context Hedgerows are highly important for maintaining the biodiversity in deforested landscapes. Especially for habitat specialists such as several forest plants they can provide important refuge habitats. Objectives This study aims to examine whether there is an extinction debt for forest plants in hedgerows. Methods In a study area in Northern Germany that had lost 47% of the hedgerow network over the past 120 years, hedgerows were mapped for the presence of forest vascular plants. In a multi-model approach, we compared the explanatory power of present and historical landscape variables and habitat quality on diversity patterns. Results The change in landscape configuration had no effect on the species richness of forest plants in hedgerows, i.e. there was no sign of an extinction debt. The best explanatory variable was the hedgerow width with more species found in wider hedgerows. This demonstrates the importance of including local habitat variables in the study of extinction debt. For ancient woodland indicator species models including both the landscape configuration and habitat variables were superior to simple models. The best models included the historical distance to the nearest forest, suggesting an extinction debt. Counterintuitively, a high density of hedgerows had a negative influence on species richness, most likely because hedgerows are narrower in areas with higher densities due to land-saving measures by farmers. There was also a negative correlation between hedgerow density and the hedgerow proximity to forests. Conclusions The effects of important covariates may obscure species-area relationships and undermine extinction debt analyses.

Author(s): Litza, K; Diekmann, M

Journal: Landscape Ecology

Year: 2020