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Using environmental and growth characteristics of plants to detect long-term changes in response to atmospheric pollution: Some examples from British beechwoods

Ling, K. A.


K. A. Ling


This study uses the Ellenberg system of plant indicator values, along with Grime et al.'s plant growth strategy values, to investigate the nature of temporal changes in the composition of ground flora in two beechwoods in the Cotswolds region of the UK, currently receiving atmospheric inputs of nitrogen in excess of critical loads. The woods, first surveyed in the early 1960s, were resurveyed in 1998 using the original sampling protocol. Temporal changes in the abundance of individual species at Blackstable West Wood indicate changes in light over time, although decreases in sun species, and both increases and decreases in shade species suggest that this change has been patchy. Analysis of changes in plant community as represented by weighted and unweighted quadrat Ellenberg and CSR scores have yielded more significant results. Blackstable West Wood shows increases in nitrophilic, moist-soil and competitive species accompanied by a decline in stress-tolerant species. In Buckholt Top Wood there has been an increase in sun and moist-soil species, a decrease in competitive species and, when weighted Ellenberg scores are considered, an increase in acid-tolerant species. These changes indicate both the impact of woodland management by selective felling and an underlying influence of enhanced atmospheric deposition especially of nitrogen pollutants. It is concluded that quadrat mean scores are a useful tool especially where few individual species have undergone large temporal changes in abundance. However, lack of correlations between quadrat Ellenberg scores for pH and light on one hand, and their equivalents measured in the field, i.e. soil pH and surrogates for light, such as distance to the nearest tree and tree density, suggest that this approach may not be sensitive enough to pick up small-scale, within site variations. Although harder to interpret, plant strategy scores were found to be a useful additional descriptor, encapsulating a plant's response to a range of environmental factors. © 2003 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.


Ling, K. A. (2003). Using environmental and growth characteristics of plants to detect long-term changes in response to atmospheric pollution: Some examples from British beechwoods. Science of the Total Environment, 310(1-3), 203-210.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jul 1, 2003
Journal Science of the Total Environment
Print ISSN 0048-9697
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 310
Issue 1-3
Pages 203-210
Keywords Ellenberg values, plant growth strategies, temporal changes, ground flora, beech, air pollution
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Additional Information : This work contributes to the relatively small body of evidence within the UK demonstrating measurable effects of anthropogenic activity (air pollution, management) on semi-natural ecosystems. It also questions the validity of using Ellenberg Plant indicator values, which are widely utilised to interpret plant community change, at a local scale.

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