The early effects of afforestation on biodiversity of grasslands in Ireland

  • Erika BuscardoEmail author
  • George F. Smith
  • Daniel L. Kelly
  • Helena Freitas
  • Susan Iremonger
  • Fraser J. G. Mitchell
  • Saoirse O’Donoghue
  • Anne-Marie McKee
Part of the Topics in Biodiversity and Conservation book series (TOBC, volume 9)


The target rate of afforestation in Ireland over the next 30 years is 20,000 ha per year, which would result in an increase of the forest cover from the current 10% to 17%. In order to promote sustainable forest management practices, it is essential to know the composition and conservation value of habitats where afforestation is planned and the effects of subsequent planting upon biodiversity. The objectives of this study were to investigate changes in vegetation composition and diversity of grasslands 5 years after afforestation with Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) and determine the primary ecological and management factors responsible for these changes. Species cover, environmental and management data were collected from 16 afforested and unplanted improved and wet grassland site pairs in Ireland. Our results indicate that 5 years after tree planting, there were significant changes in richness, composition, and abundance of species. Competitive and vigorous grasses were more abundant in planted than in unplanted sites, as were generalist species found in both open and wooded habitats, while small-stature shade-sensitive species were less abundant. Vascular plant species richness and Shannon’s diversity index were higher in unplanted wet grassland, than in the planted sites. Bryophyte species richness was higher in planted improved grassland than in unplanted sites. The differences were primarily the result of the exclusion of grazing, ground preparation, changes in nutrient management and drainage for afforestation. Drainage ditches provided a temporary habitat for less competitive species, but the overall effect of drainage was to reduce the diversity of species dependent on wet conditions. Variance partitioning showed differences in the relative influences of environmental and management variables on biodiversity in the two habitats, probably due to the greater pre-afforestation grazing pressure and fertilisation levels in improved grasslands. The differences in biodiversity between planted and unplanted grasslands indicate that afforestation represents a threat to semi-natural habitats where distinctive and highly localised plant communities could potentially occur.


Afforestation Biodiversity Grassland Ordination Plantation Variation partitioning 



Canonical correspondence analysis


Diameter at breast height (1.3 m)


Total variation explained


Improved grassland


Wet grassland


Total inertia


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Erika Buscardo
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • George F. Smith
    • 1
  • Daniel L. Kelly
    • 1
  • Helena Freitas
    • 2
  • Susan Iremonger
    • 1
  • Fraser J. G. Mitchell
    • 1
  • Saoirse O’Donoghue
    • 1
  • Anne-Marie McKee
    • 1
  1. 1.BIOFOREST Project, Department of Botany, School of Natural ScienceTrinity College DublinDublin 2Ireland
  2. 2.Centre for Functional Ecology, Department of BotanyUniversity of CoimbraCoimbraPortugal

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