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Land-use history affects understorey plant species distributions in a large temperate-forest complex, Denmark

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In Europe, forests have been strongly influenced by human land-use for millennia. Here, we studied the importance of anthropogenic historical factors as determinants of understorey species distributions in a 967 ha Danish forest complex using 156 randomly placed 100-m 2 plots, 15 environmental, 9 spatial, and 5 historical variables, and principal components analysis (PCA), redundancy analysis (RDA) as well as indicator species analysis. The historical variables were status as ancient (1805 AD) high forest, reclaimed bogs, ≤100 m from Bronze Age burial mounds, or former conifer plantation, and stand age. The PCA results showed that the main gradients in species composition were strongly related to the explanatory variables. Forward variable selection and variation partitioning using RDA showed that although modern environment was the dominant driver of species composition, anthropogenic historical factors were also important. The pure historical variation fraction constituted 13% of the variation explained. The RDA results showed that ancient-forest status and, secondarily, reclaimed bog status were the only significant historical variables. Many typical forest interior species, with poor dispersal and a strong literature record as ancient-forest species, were still concentrated in areas that were high forest in 1805. Among the younger forests, there were clear floristic differences between those on reclaimed bogs and those not. Apparently remnant populations of wet-soil plants were still present in the reclaimed bog areas. Our results emphasize the importance of historical factors for understanding modern vegetation patterns in forested landscapes.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationForest Ecology : Recent Advances in Plant Ecology
Number of pages14
Publication year1 Dec 2009
ISBN (print)9789048127948
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2009

    Research areas

  • Ancient woodland, Ancient-forest indicator species, Dispersal limitation, Forest history, Forest management, Historical factors

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