A framework that summarizes the direct and indirect effects of past land use on forest herb recolonization is proposed, and used to analyse the colonization patterns of forest understorey herbaceous species in a 360-ha mixed forest, grassland and arable landscape in the Dijle river valley (central Belgium).
Fine-scale distribution maps were constructed for 14 species. The species were mapped in 15 946 forest plots and outside forests (along parcel margins) in 5188 plots. Forest stands varied in age between 1 and more than 224 years. Detailed land-use history data were combined with the species distribution maps to identify species-specific colonization sources and to calculate colonization distances.
The six most frequent species were selected for more detailed statistical analysis.
Logistic regression models indicated that species frequency in forest parcels was a function of secondary forest age, distance from the nearest colonization source and their interaction. Similar age and distance effects were found within hedgerows.
In 199 forest stands, data about soils, canopy structure and the cover of competitive species were collected. The relative importance of habitat quality and spatio-temporal isolation for the colonization of the forest herb species was quantified using structural equation modelling (SEM), within the framework proposed for the effects of past land use.
The results of the SEM indicate that, except for the better colonizing species, the measured habitat quality variables are of minor importance in explaining colonization patterns, compared with the combination of secondary forest age and distance from colonization sources.
Our results suggest the existence of a two-stage colonization process in which diaspore availability determines the initial pattern, which is affected by environmental sorting at later stages.
Additional publication details
An integrated analysis of the effects of past land use on forest herb colonization at the landscape scale