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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Species accumulation in novel grassland habitats is linked to land cover history

Horstmann, Svenja; Auffret, Alistair G. G.; Daniel-Ferreira, Juliana; Ockinger, Erik


Novel grassland habitats along linear infrastructure have gained attention as potential supplementary or replacement habitats for species suffering from the widespread loss of traditionally managed semi-natural grasslands. However, it can take time for species to colonise new habitats, and both the historical and the current landscape composition can affect colonisation rates, particularly for grassland specialist species. We investigated the influence of more than 100 years of landscape history on present-day species richness of plants, butterflies and bumblebees in two types of linear infrastructure habitats: road verges and power line corridors. We analysed the effects of time since habitat establishment and the amount of surrounding grassland cover in different time periods on species richness of the three taxa. Our results suggest a long time lag in the establishment of plant species in novel grassland habitats, with richness of butterflies and bumblebees largely dependent on the richness of plant species. There was no direct relationship between habitat age and the richness of butterflies or bumblebees, but we found unexpected legacy effects of grassland area on present-day species richness. Higher richness of bumblebee species in road verges located in landscapes with larger surrounding grassland cover in the past is most likely a consequence of those landscapes containing a mosaic of afforested and abandoned grassland habitats today. Furthermore, we found that power line corridors might be important replacement habitats for butterflies in landscapes with little other grassland area left. Provided that road verges and power-line corridors are managed appropriately, our results show that their species richness can be expected to increase in the future.


landscape history; linear infrastructure; pollinator; power line; road verge; vascular plants

Published in

2023, number: 8
Publisher: WILEY