Fifty years of vegetation change in oceanic-montane liverwort-rich heath in Scotland

Maren Flagmeier, David G. Long, David R. Genney, Peter M. Hollingsworth, Louise C. Ross, Sarah J. Woodin* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Liverwort heath is considered in Scotland to be one of the vegetation types most vulnerable to environmental change, yet detailed insights into its dynamics are lacking.

Aims: To assess the nature and extent of plant compositional changes in liverwort heath over 50 years and relate this to environmental change drivers.

Methods: Vegetation plots previously recorded 20 and 50 years ago were re-surveyed to assess changes in species composition, plot-level species richness and between-plot variability, using several β-diversity indices and partitioning. The environmental indicator values of the species that showed most change were used to identify the environmental drivers of change.

Results: Liverwort heath in north-west Scotland has undergone compositional changes over 50 years, becoming more heterogeneous, and losing some of its distinct character. Dwarf shrubs and specialist liverworts have decreased, while graminoids have increased. Partitioning of change in β diversity indicated that mainly changes in species richness, rather than species turnover, have driven the taxonomic differentiation over time. Grazing, eutrophication and warmer and drier conditions were found to be potentially important drivers of the observed vegetation change.

Conclusions: Our results highlight the vulnerability of liverwort heath to environmental change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)457-470
Number of pages14
JournalPlant Ecology & Diversity
Issue number3
Early online date12 Dec 2013
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Bibliographical note

We are grateful to Alison Averis, Donald McVean and the late Derek Ratcliffe for collecting the original data, to Gordon Rothero, Alison and Ben Averis for useful information, and Martin Hermy, Eduardo Moreno and three anonymous referees
for valuable comments on the manuscript. We also thank the relevant landowners and managers for access to the sites, and Juliane Geyer for assistance in the field. M.F. was funded by a NERC Ph.D. studentship (CASE studentship with Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh), and the project also received funding from SNH.


  • beta diversity
  • bryophytes
  • dissimilarity
  • graminoids
  • hepatic mat
  • homogenisation
  • leafy liverworts
  • re-visitation studies
  • semi-permanent plots
  • vegetation change


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