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Agricultural land‐use history causes persistent loss of plant phylogenetic diversity

Turley, Nash E., Brudvig, Lars A.
Ecology 2016 v.97 no.9 pp. 2240-2247
agricultural history, agricultural land, anthropogenic activities, community structure, environmental impact, habitat conservation, land use, phylogeny, plant communities, savannas, species diversity, trees
Intensive land use activities, such as agriculture, are a leading cause of biodiversity loss and can have lasting impacts on ecological systems. Yet, few studies have investigated how land‐use legacies impact phylogenetic diversity (the total amount of evolutionary history in a community) or how restoration activities might mitigate legacy effects on biodiversity. We studied ground‐layer plant communities in 27 pairs of Remnant (no agricultural history) and Post‐agricultural (agriculture abandoned >60 yr ago) longleaf pine savannas, half of which we restored by thinning trees to reinstate open savanna conditions. We found that agricultural history had no impact on species richness, but did alter community composition and reduce phylogenetic diversity by 566 million years/1,000 m². This loss of phylogenetic diversity in post‐agricultural savannas was due to, in part, a reduction in the average evolutionary distance between pairs of closely related species, that is, increased phylogenetic clustering. Habitat restoration increased species richness by 27% and phylogenetic diversity by 914 million years but did not eliminate the effects of agricultural land use on community composition and phylogenetic structure. These results demonstrate the persistence of agricultural legacies, even in the face of intensive restoration efforts, and the importance of considering biodiversity broadly when evaluating human impacts on ecosystems.