The analysis of spatio-temporal forest changes (1775–2000) in Flanders (northern Belgium) indicates habitat-specific levels of fragmentation and area loss

Luc De Keersmaeker, Thierry Onkelinx, Bruno De Vos, Nele Rogiers, Kris Vandekerkhove, Arno Thomaes, An De Schrijver, Martin Hermy, Kris Verheyen

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    Spatio-temporal forest changes can
    have a progressive negative impact on the habitat of
    species that need forest continuity, i.e. the continuous
    presence of forest. Long-term species data that
    demonstrate such an impact are often not available.
    Instead we applied a spatial analysis on maps of the
    historical and present-day forests, by calculating
    landscape indices that explain forest plant species
    We digitized for this purpose, forests in
    Flanders (northern Belgium, 13,500 km2) at four
    time slices (1775, 1850, 1904–1931, 2000) and created
    a map of forest continuity in 2000. The ecological
    relevance of the analysis was further enhanced by a
    site classification, using a map of potential forest
    habitat types based on soil–vegetation relationships.
    Our results indicated that, between 1775 and
    2000, forests occupied 9.7–12.2%of the total study area.
    If continuity was not taken into consideration, forest
    fragmentation slightly increased since 1775. However,
    only 16 % of the forest area in 2000 remained
    continuously present at least since 1775 and is therefore
    called ancient forest (AF). Moreover, connectivity of
    forest that originated after 1775, called recent forest, was
    low and only 14%was in physical contact with AF. The
    results were habitat-specific as forest on sites that are
    potentially suitable for a high number of slow-colonizing
    species, e.g. ancient forest plants, were affected most.
    We discuss that a GIS analysis of this
    kind is essential to provide statistics for forest
    biodiversity conservation and restoration, in landscapes
    with a dynamic and heterogeneous forest cover.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalLandscape Ecology
    Publication statusPublished - Feb-2015

    Thematic list

    • Species and biotopes

    EWI Biomedical sciences

    • B003-ecology

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