Influence of patch size and connectivity on beach and dune species in land-uplift coasts
Background: Land-uplift beaches and adjacent dunes contribute considerably to natural diversity. In such fragmented habitat types, the size and connectivity of a habitat patch are hypothesised to strongly influence the distribution of species, particularly the most habitat-specific ones.
Aims: To test this hypothesis, our study compared the effects of habitat pattern (patch size and connectivity) and local environmental factors on the distribution and richness of beach species.
Methods: We collected extensive observational data on vegetation and environment from beach systems along a 600-km land-uplift gradient on the Baltic Sea coast. The analyses were repeated with three modelling methods to ensure that the results were independent of the selected method.
Results and conclusions: Our results indicate that patch size and connectivity influence the occurrence and richness of habitat specialists, while total beach species richness is less dependent on the habitat pattern. Patch size and connectivity are as influential on beach vegetation as local environmental drivers. Unexpectedly, largest patch size or highest connectivity does not appear to maximise species richness or the probability of species occurrence. Instead, the study highlights species-specific responses and the value of also relatively small and isolated habitat patches. Both the diverse network of habitat patches and local environmental variability should be accounted for to efficiently preserve beach species.