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Flora of the European forests dwindles, even in the protected areas. Members of an international team of scientists had a look at this phenomenon. Among them, there were Dr Kamila Reczyńska and Dr hab. Krzysztof Świerkosz from the Faculty of Biological Sciences at the University of Wrocław.

In the temperate forests of Europe, rare plant species are being replaced with other fertile-habitats plants or alien invasive species. This phenomenon might be connected with higher deposition of anthropogenic nitrogen. The results of this study were published in the latest edition of ‘Nature Ecology & Evolution.‘

Although we have been observing homogenisation or decline of plant species for a long time, their total number in certain areas does not decrease. Finding an explanation to this phenomenon was the main goal of the study conducted by an international team of scientists led by Ingmar Staude from the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv). Dr Kamila Reczyńska and Dr hab. Krzysztof Świerkosz from the Faculty of Biological Sciences at the University of Wrocław were members of that team.

Using data gathered from 68 different areas in temperate forests in Europe, including the Sudetes, it was analysed how the diversity of green plant species has changed during recent decades. For this purpose, the scientists had to assess changes of 1162 different plant species, based on data from the foresReplot database.

The team have discovered that the species of narrow geographic range are more prone to extinction. However, this fact is not a result of the size of their population but rather of the ecological niche in which they grow. Such plants are often adapted to a soil that is relatively poor in nutrients or to a habitat with some unusual characteristics. Chronic and excessive nitrogen deposition in many parts of Europe results in an increased risk of extinction of such species. On the other hand, plants that prefer rich soil, such as nettle or blackberries, benefit from an increased amount of nitrogen. When there are more nutrients, they grow faster, and they have now gained competitive advantage.

The approximate biodiversity of the forests has not diminished, although their real diversity has. The scientists estimated that it decreased by at least 4% over the last decades. They emphasize, however, that most of the places that have been monitored are in the protected areas. If they had studied other forests, the decline could have been even bigger.

Loss of rare plant species has strong influence on functioning of whole ecosystems. If certain species extinct, some insects and soil organisms will vanish, too. The stronger the homogenisation of a regional flora, the worse the influence of climate change and other anthropogenic disturbances it will have on the ecosystems.

Prepared based on the materials from the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig


Ingmar R. Staude, Donald M. Waller, Markus Bernhardt-Romermann, Anne D. Bjorkman, Jorg Brunet, Pieter De Frenne, Radim Hedl, Ute Jandt, Jonathan Lenoir, František Mališ, Kris Verheyen, Monika Wulf, Henrique M. Pereira, Pieter Vangansbeke, Adrienne Ortmann-Ajkai, Remigiusz Pielech, Imre Berki, Marketa Chudomelova, Guillaume Decocq, Thomas Dirnbock, Tomasz Durak, Thilo Heinken, Bogdan Jaroszewicz, Martin Kopecky, Martin Macek, Marek Malicki, Tobias Naaf, Thomas A. Nagel, Petr Petřik, Kamila Reczyńska, Fride Hoistad Schei, Wolfgang Schmidt, Tibor Standovar, Krzysztof Świerkosz, Balazs Teleki, Hans Van Calster, Ondřej Vild, Lander Baeten (2020). Replacements of small- by large-ranged species scale up to diversity loss in Europe’s temperate forest biome. Nature Ecology & Evolution, DOI: 10.1038/s41559-020-1176-8

Published by: Dariusz Tomaszczyk

18 May 2020

last modification: 23 Jun 2020