Benjamin Krause, PD Dr. Karsten Wesche, Dr. Heike Culmsee, Prof. Dr. Christoph Leuschner

Landscape and Vegetation change

Changes in Central Europe’s flora, vegetation and landscape structure in the last 50 years have been tremendous, and effects were particularly strong during large-scale agricultural modernisation in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Compared to most animal groups, trends in plant populations and communities are relatively well documented – particularly so for vascular plants. An extensive body of literature deals with trends in species’ distribution and species threat, and a huge number of phytosociological relevés, which date back as far as to the beginning of the 20th century, provide a valuable reference for change detection.
However, much of ongoing state-of-the-art research is based on changes in raster field occupancy, but even if concerns about data quality are not taken into account raster data may give an overly optimistic picture as presence in a raster field does not imply that the species is of any importance in real-world communities, and thus may not have any functional relevance. Trends in threat status inferred from Red List assessments are equally difficult to relate to actually realised vegetation in a given landscape.
Comparative analyses of plant community data extracted from phytosociological studies offer a highly interesting alternative, and a large number of phytosociological publications dealt with changes in plant communities. Unfortunately, activities have decreased in the last decade and most studies are published in German and thus hardly available to an international community. Moreover, changes in plant community composition inferred from vegetation samples again give limited information on landscape configuration unless they are combined with vegetation mapping.
The subproject E2 thus aims at a combination of several approaches. We rely heavily on relevé data, which are fortunately increasingly been incorporated in digital data bases. In a more theoretic study, we will mine available data, which is not a new approach. Here, we will lay a stronger focus on changes in functional- in addition to taxonomical diversity. These data are amended by own work in selected focus regions, where reliable relevé data but also vegetation maps are available from the 1950 / 1960s. We resurvey plant community composition by both deliberately choosing relatively well developed stands as it is phytosociological practice; this is amended by a randomised sampling scheme. In addition, current vegetation is mapped based on high-resolution aerial imagery. Again a focus is laid on both taxonomical and functional diversity. Taken together, this will allow us to make robust inferences based on a spatially well distributed and thus presumably representative data set.
The project has started with an assessment of moist meadows and grazing lands in the northern German lowlands, where changes have been particularly pronounced. In the second year, when methods have proven reliable, we will extent our survey to other communities and regions.


Christoph Leuschner et al. (2013). Veränderungen und Verarmung in der Offenlandvegetation Norddeutschlands seit den 1950er Jahren: Wiederholungsaufnahmen in Äckern, Grünland und Fließgewässern. Berichte der Reinhold-Tüxen-Gesellschaft 25: 166-182.

Stefan Meyer et al. (2013). Dramatic impoverishment of arable plant communities since the 1950s/60s ? a large scale analysis across geological substrate groups. Diversity & Distributions 19: 1175-1187.

Stefan Meyer et al. (2013). Veränderungen der Segetalflora der letzten Jahrzehnte und mögliche Konsequenzen für Agrarvögel. Julius Kühn-Archiv 442: 64-78.

Stefan Meyer (2013). Impoverishment of the arable flora of Central Germany during the past 50 years: a multiple scale analysis. Biodiversity and Ecology Series B 9: 145 p. + Appendix.

Kristina Steffen et al. (2013). Diversity loss in the macrophyte vegetation of northwest German streams and rivers between the 1950s and 2010. Hydrobiologia 713: 1-17.

Markus Hauck et al. (2013). Dramatic diversity losses in epiphytic lichens in temperate broad-leaved forests during the last 150 years. Biological Conservation 157: 136-145.

Benjamin Krause & Heike Culmsee (2013). The significance of habitat continuity and current management on the compositional and functional diversity of grasslands in the uplands of Lower Saxony, Germany. Flora 208: 299-311.

Christina Kohlbrecher et al. (2012). Veränderungen in der Segetalflora am Kyffhäusergebirge in den letzten 50 Jahren (1961-2011). Landschaftspflege und Naturschutz in Thüringen 49: 1-9.

Jonathan Storkey et al. (2012). The impact of agricultural intensification and land use change on the European arable flora. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 279: 1421-1429.

Karsten Wesche et al. (2012). Fifty years of change in Central European grassland vegetation: Large losses in species richness and animal-pollinated plants. Biological Conservation 150: 76-85.

Benjamin Krause et al. (2011). Habitat loss of floodplain meadows in north Germany since the 1950s. Biodiversity and Conservation 20: 2347-2364.

Karsten Wesche et al. (2009). Veränderungen in der Flächen-Ausdehnung und Artenzusammensetzung des Feuchtgrünlandes in Norddeutschland seit den 1950er Jahren. Berichte der Reinhold-Tüxen-Gesellschaft 21: 196-210.