Plants associated with traditional agricultural landscapes in northern Europe and Scandinavia are subjected to drastic habitat fragmentation. In this paper we discuss species response to fragmentation, against a background of vegetation and land-use history. Recent evidence suggests that grassland-forest mosaics have been prevalent long before the onset of human agriculture. We suggest that the creation of infield meadows and outland grazing (during the Iron Age) increased the amount and spatial predictability of grasslands, resulting in plant communities with exceptionally high species densities. Thus, distribution of plant species in the present-day landscape reflects historical land-use. This holds also when traditional management has ceased, due to a slow response by many species to abandonment and fragmentation. The distribution patterns are thus not in equilibrium with the present habitat distribution. Fragmentation influences remaining semi-natural grasslands such that species density is likely to decline as a result of local extinctions and invasion by habitat generalists. However, species that for a long time have been subjected to changing mosaic landscapes may be more resistant to fragmentation than is usually believed. Conservation should focus not only on ‘hot-spots’ with high species richness, but also consider species dynamics in a landscape context.
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Vol. 13 • No. 5