Tuesday 4 August 2015

Irish meadow saxifrage

Dr Duncan McCollin and former student Eva Geraghty of the University of Northampton have just had their paper titled ‘Change and causes of change in the vascular plant flora of Ireland: 1970-1999‘ published in Biology and Environment: Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy.

This paper takes data from the New Atlas of the British Flora and elsewhere to analyse the distribution on wild plants on the island of Ireland using records from before 1970 compared to those data collected between 1987 and 1999.

The analysis detected considerable changes in the flora of Ireland with a clear signal of ‘biotic homogenization’ – a process in which diversity is being lost and in which the wild flora is becoming increasingly similar throughout Ireland. Two notable findings were the association of change in plant distribution with eutrophication, combined with a loss of species restricted to single habitats both possibly a result of greater agricultural intensification. Species being lost include Meadow Saxifrage (pictured), Yellow rattle, Autumn Crocus and Small Cow-wheat, although the main group in decline were the annual plants associated with traditional agriculture such as Shepherd’s needle, Rough poppy and Broad-fruited Cornsalad (amongst others). In contrast, species on the increase include stinging nettle, daisy, broad-leaved plantain – all plants associated with more nutrient-rich conditions. This research highlights the ongoing decline of wild plants in Ireland both north and south of the border.

Dr​ Duncan McCollin explained:  “For a long time it has been suspected that plant records for Ireland were not of sufficient quality to be used to detect quantitative changes in the flora. Here, we show they can and our analysis highlights changes that should be of concern to anyone with an interest in conservation in Ireland, both north and south of the border.”

Biology and Environment, published three times a year, features biological and environmental research on topics of Irish interest for an international readership.

Reference: McCollin, D. & Geraghty, E. (2015) ‘Change and causes of change in the vascular plant flora of Ireland: 1970-1999‘​. Biology & Environment: Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy Vol. 115B, No. 1, pp. 1-15

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