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Research article2007Peer reviewed

Land use more than 200 years ago explains current grassland plant diversity in a Swedish agricultural landscape

Gustavsson E, Lennartsson T, Emanuelsson M


The reformation of the Swedish agricultural system, about 150 years ago, drastically changed the use of semi-natural grasslands. Grassland plant diversity has declined due to abandonment, changed management methods and production intensification. Current diversity patterns are thus a result of historical and current land use in combination. In this study we investigate the relative importance of historical grassland management and current land use for grassland plant diversity. The distribution of 128 grassland plant species in an agricultural landscape in southwest Sweden was analysed in relation to current land use and land use in three historical time periods; the 18th and the 19th century and around 1960. Land use during the three historical periods was also combined into land-use sequences. Four diversity estimates were used: number of grassland species, number of grassland specialists, Shannon-Wiener index on the specialists and total cover/hectare of specialists. Historical land use - especially 18th century and the land-use sequences - explained more of the variation among study sites than did current land use. Continuity of a specific management type was important for grassland plants as indicated by highest diversities being found in pastures continuously grazed since the 18th century. Former hay meadows, currently grazed, did not differ in any diversity estimate from abandoned hay meadows, indicating that change of management from mowing to grazing a century ago may cause diversity declines similar to abandonment some 40 years ago. Limited artificial fertilisation in the managed areas may have contributed to this effect. Further decline in grassland biodiversity in the agricultural landscape is expected because a substantial proportion of grassland plant populations occur in abandoned areas. (c) 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved

Published in

Biological Conservation
2007, Volume: 138, number: 1-2, pages: 47-59

      SLU Authors

    • Associated SLU-program

      SLU Swedish Biodiversity Centre

      UKÄ Subject classification

      Environmental Sciences related to Agriculture and Land-use
      Agricultural Science

      Publication identifier


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