Older and richer: Old grasslands show high biodiversity and conservation value

September 10, 2020

Tsukuba, Japan - "The grass is always greener on the other side," as the saying goes, but in this case, it's more diverse. Researchers from Japan have discovered that old grasslands have higher plant diversity than new ones, and that grassland longevity can be an indicator of high conservation priority.

In a study published this month in Ecological Research as online version, researchers from the University of Tsukuba have revealed that the longer grasslands have been around, the higher their plant diversity, and the more likely they are to be of high conservation priority.

Grasslands can be classified as natural (existing in natural climatic conditions and disturbance systems) or seminatural (maintained by artificial disturbances such as pasturing, fire or mowing). Seminatural grasslands are ecosystems with rich biodiversity. Unfortunately, both types of grasslands are declining globally.

"There's an urgent need to identify grasslands of high conservation priority," says lead author of the study Taiki Inoue. "The results of a growing number of recent studies show that vegetation history affects current biological communities. The aim of our study was to evaluate whether the uninterrupted continuity of grasslands through time promotes biodiversity, and therefore can be an indicator of conservation priority."

To do this, the researchers investigated plant communities in old (160-1000+ years) and new (52-70 years after deforestation) seminatural grasslands, as well as in forests, in highland areas of central Japan. Geographical information system (GIS) data were constructed using aerial photos and past maps to judge the vegetation history of these ecosystems.

"Old grasslands had the highest number of plant species, followed by new grasslands and forests," explains Professor Tanaka Kenta, senior author. "This pattern was much clearer in the number of native and endangered species dependent on grasslands, indicating the role of old grasslands as refuges for those species."

Old and new grasslands also differed in species composition, with the composition of new grasslands ranging between that of old grasslands and forests. This suggests that new grasslands continue to be affected by past forestation more than 52 years after deforestation. Old grasslands were found to have eleven indicator species, with none found in new grasslands, revealing that the plant community in old grasslands was unique.

"Our findings indicate that grasslands that have been around for a long time are where conservation effort should be focused," says Inoue.

Future studies investigating the effect of vegetation history on the current biodiversity of grassland plant species will improve understanding of how biological communities are formed, and will be key to allocating conservation priority.
-end-


University of Tsukuba

Related Plant Species Articles from Brightsurf:

German researchers compile world's largest inventory of known plant species
Researchers at Leipzig University and the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) have compiled the world's most comprehensive list of known plant species.

Evolution in action: New Plant species in the Swiss Alps
A new plant species named Cardamine insueta appeared in the region of Urnerboden in the Swiss alps, after the land has changed from forest to grassland over the last 150 years.

Invasional meltdown in multi-species plant communities
New research led by University of Konstanz ecologists reveals invasional meltdown in multi-species plant communities and identifies the soil microbiome as a major driver of invasion success.

Study shows Latin America twice as rich in plant species as tropical Africa
Latin America is more than twice as rich in plant species as tropical Africa and is home to a third of the world's biodiversity, a new paper published today in Science Advances confirms.

Plant size and habitat traits influence cycad susceptibility to invasive species
A long-term study on cycads in Guam has revealed how rapidly invasive species devastated the native Cycas micronesica species and the key factors that have influenced the plant's mortality.

About 94 per cent of wild bee and native plant species networks lost, York study finds
Climate change and an increase in disturbed bee habitats from expanding agriculture and development in northeastern North America over the last 30 years are likely responsible for a 94 per cent loss of plant-pollinator networks, York University researchers found.

Australian fossil reveals new plant species
Fresh examination of an Australian fossil -- believed to be among the earliest plants on Earth -- has revealed evidence of a new plant species that existed in Australia more than 359 Million years ago.

Study: One-third of plant and animal species could be gone in 50 years
University of Arizona researchers studied recent extinctions from climate change to estimate the loss of plant and animal species by 2070.

Scientists challenge notion of binary sexuality with naming of new plant species
A collaborative team of scientists from the US and Australia has named a new plant species from the remote Outback.

Plant lineage points to different evolutionary playbook for temperate species
An ancient, cosmopolitan lineage of plants is shaking up scientists' understanding of how quickly species evolve in temperate ecosystems and why.

Read More: Plant Species News and Plant Species Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.