In fragmented woodlands in agricultural regions of Australia, roadside environments (road verges) provide important refuges for threatened native fauna and isolated populations of plant species. However, as roads are transport corridors for humans and their vehicles, species survival is affected through destruction, fragmentation and modification of remaining habitat by human activity. Few studies have recognised the effects of anthropogenic disturbances, in the form of historical roadworks activities, on adjacent roadside plant populations. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of soil disturbance from roadworks on the spatial patterns and structural dynamics of roadside Acacia populations in an agricultural area in southeastern Australia. Stem size and disturbance data were collected from 135 roadside populations of three species of Acacia shrubs in the Lockhart Shire area. Spatial pattern analysis using the Network K-function and Discriminant Function analyses showed that road verge width, road category, disturbance intensity and distance to nearest town were highly significant variables in relation to disturbance from roadworks and shrub structural dynamics. Colonising populations were more abundant along gravel roads where soil disturbance intensity was high, whereas stable populations were more abundant where soil disturbance intensity was low. Senescent populations were more abundant in narrow, little used road verge corridors 4–6 km from nearby towns. These results suggest that anthropogenic disturbance regimes may be critical to shrub recruitment and persistence in roadside environments, which has important consequences for conservation of threatened native flora and fauna in agricultural landscapes.
Nomenclature: Harden (1991).
Abbreviation: CSR = Complete spatial randomness.