Helsingin yliopisto

 

Helsingin yliopiston verkkojulkaisut

University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006

Plant species diversity of buffer zones in agricultural landscapes: in search of determinants from the local to regional scale

Maohua Ma

Doctoral dissertation, December 2006.
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, Department of Applied Biology, Agroecology.

Buffer zones are vegetated strip-edges of agricultural fields along watercourses. As linear habitats in agricultural ecosystems, buffer strips dominate and play a leading ecological role in many areas. This thesis focuses on the plant species diversity of the buffer zones in a Finnish agricultural landscape. The main objective of the present study is to identify the determinants of floral species diversity in arable buffer zones from local to regional levels. This study was conducted in a watershed area of a farmland landscape of southern Finland. The study area, Lepsämänjoki, is situated in the Nurmijärvi commune 30 km to the north of Helsinki, Finland. The biotope mosaics were mapped in GIS. A total of 59 buffer zones were surveyed, of which 29 buffer strips surveyed were also sampled by plot.

Firstly, two diversity components (species richness and evenness) were investigated to determine whether the relationship between the two is equal and predictable. I found no correlation between species richness and evenness. The relationship between richness and evenness is unpredictable in a small-scale human-shaped ecosystem. Ordination and correlation analyses show that richness and evenness may result from different ecological processes, and thus should be considered separately. Species richness correlated negatively with phosphorus content, and species evenness correlated negatively with the ratio of organic carbon to total nitrogen in soil. The lack of a consistent pattern in the relationship between these two components may be due to site-specific variation in resource utilization by plant species.

Within-habitat configuration (width, length, and area) were investigated to determine which is more effective for predicting species richness. More species per unit area increment could be obtained from widening the buffer strip than from lengthening it. The width of the strips is an effective determinant of plant species richness. The increase in species diversity with an increase in the width of buffer strips may be due to cross-sectional habitat gradients within the linear patches. This result can serve as a reference for policy makers, and has application value in agricultural management.

In the framework of metacommunity theory, I found that both mass effect(connectivity) and species sorting (resource heterogeneity) were likely to explain species composition and diversity on a local and regional scale. The local and regional processes were interactively dominated by the degree to which dispersal perturbs local communities. In the lowly and intermediately connected regions, species sorting was of primary importance to explain species diversity, while the mass effect surpassed species sorting in the highly connected region. Increasing connectivity in communities containing high habitat heterogeneity can lead to the homogenization of local communities, and consequently, to lower regional diversity, while local species richness was unrelated to the habitat connectivity. Of all species found, Anthriscus sylvestris, Phalaris arundinacea, and Phleum pretense significantly responded to connectivity, and showed high abundance in the highly connected region. We suggest that these species may play a role in switching the force from local resources to regional connectivity shaping the community structure.

On the landscape context level, the different responses of local species richness and evenness to landscape context were investigated. Seven landscape structural parameters served to indicate landscape context on five scales. On all scales but the smallest scales, the Shannon-Wiener diversity of land covers (H') correlated positively with the local richness. The factor (H') showed the highest correlation coefficients in species richness on the second largest scale. The edge density of arable field was the only predictor that correlated with species evenness on all scales, which showed the highest predictive power on the second smallest scale. The different predictive power of the factors on different scales showed a scaledependent relationship between the landscape context and local plant species diversity, and indicated that different ecological processes determine species richness and evenness. The local richness of species depends on a regional process on large scales, which may relate to the regional species pool, while species evenness depends on a fine- or coarse-grained farming system, which may relate to the patch quality of the habitats of field edges near the buffer strips.

My results suggested some guidelines of species diversity conservation in the agricultural ecosystem. To maintain a high level of species diversity in the strips, a high level of phosphorus in strip soil should be avoided. Widening the strips is the most effective mean to improve species richness. Habitat connectivity is not always favorable to species diversity because increasing connectivity in communities containing high habitat heterogeneity can lead to the homogenization of local communities (beta diversity) and, consequently, to lower regional diversity. Overall, a synthesis of local and regional factors emerged as the model that best explain variations in plant species diversity. The studies also suggest that the effects of determinants on species diversity have a complex relationship with scale.

The title page of the publication

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© University of Helsinki 2006

Last updated 30.11.2006

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