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Abandonment and intensified use of agricultural land decrease habitats of rare herbs in semi-natural grasslands

Uematsu, Yuta, Koga, Tatsuro, Mitsuhashi, Hiromune, Ushimaru, Atushi
Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 2010 v.135 no.4 pp. 304-309
agricultural land, grasslands, land use change, abandoned land, intensive farming, habitats, forbs, wild plants, habitat preferences, Oryza sativa, rice, grain crops, land use, biodiversity, botanical composition, Japan
Although traditional agricultural land use maintains biodiversity, recent land-use changes involving abandonment or use intensification have rapidly reduced the biodiversity of agricultural landscapes. Organisms living in agricultural landscapes are likely to respond differently to these changes, with some species declining rapidly and others remaining unchanged. However, few studies have focused on this interspecific difference in susceptibility to land abandonment and intensification in agricultural landscapes. We hypothesize that rarer herb species are more susceptible to both abandonment and intensification than are common herbs due to habitat preferences in the semi-natural grasslands of agricultural landscapes. To test this hypothesis, we examined the distributions of two pairs of congeneric grasslands species on abandoned and consolidated (production-intensified) paddy fields to assess differences in vulnerability to paddy abandonment and consolidation between the rarer and the more common species in an agricultural landscape. We found that higher, steeper fields farther from roads in the upper areas of paddy terraces were more frequently abandoned in our study area. The two rarer species had significantly more overlap with the distribution of fields at risk of abandonment than did the two more common congeneric species. In addition, the two rarer species were significantly less widely distributed in consolidated fields. Thus, both land abandonment and intensification appear to asymmetrically decrease habitats of rarer species. In light of our findings, we also discuss biodiversity conservation in agricultural landscapes with changing land use.