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Title: The biodiversity of the Wealden ghyll woodlands : species richness, abundance and distribution patterns in a rare and fragmented habitat
Author: Flint, Andrew R.
Awarding Body: University of Brighton
Current Institution: University of Brighton
Date of Award: 2014
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The Wealden ghyll woodlands are associated with unique plant assemblages that include nationally rare bryophyte species with oceanic affiliations. The identification and monitoring of this type of 'priority' habitat, recognised as important in terms of regional and national biodiversity, is a central facet of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UKBAP). Despite the acknowledged importance of ghyll woodlands for non-vascular plant species, previous studies attempting to examine and characterise the ghyll woodlands have neglected to include these bryophyte communities. This research identifies and characterises the Wealden ghyll woodlands through an examination of the spatial and temporal distributions of bryophyte and flowering plant species. The research also seeks to provide baseline data against which biodiversity levels can monitored. In order to identify and contextualise the importance of ghyll woodland in terms of regional biodiversity, survey data was collected from other types of ancient woodland throughout the region for comparative analysis. The study involved the collection of species and environmental data from a total of 1440 random quad rats from 60 survey sites situated throughout the Weald, as well as the use of archive survey data collected during two 20 year periods (1951-1970 and 1976-1995). A number of statistical approaches including general linear modelling, ANOSIM, MannWhitney U and Spearman rank correlation analysis were used to identify the environmental correlates of spatial and temporal changes in species distributions. Spatial analysis indicated that ghyll woodland is restricted to the stream valleys themselves which were significantly richer in bryophyte and flowering plant species than the surrounding woodlands. NVC classifications assigned to the ghylls indicated the presence of 'oceanic' plant communities that are associated with damp, humid microclimatic conditions. A number of authors have explained the presence of oceanic bryophytes within the ghylls as being the result of a damp, humid microclimate present within the stream valleys. However, the study found no significant differences between climatic conditions within the ghyll valleys and those in the surrounding ancient woodlands. ANOSIM analysis indicated that community composition was influenced by site substrate, with clay and sandstone ghyll woodlands containing significantly different plant communities. Chi-squared analysis identified a temporal increase in the ratio of oceanic bryophytes and ancient woodland indicator flowering plant species during the study period. Analysis of Ellenberg indicator values indicated a move towards more shadetolerant plant communities within the ghyll woodlands. The patchily distributed ghyll woodlands were examined for signs of habitat fragmentation through genetic analysis of the bryophyte Conocephalum conicum (Great Scented Liverwort) using the random amplification polymorphic DNA technique (RAPD). Wright's fixation index (FST) and Nei 's coefficient of gene variation (GST) both indicated a loss of genetic diversity characteristic of genetic isolation. A Mantel test based on Nei 's genetic distance values indicated that the genetic isolation observed was not correlated with the geographical distance between populations. The study indicated that temporal changes are occurring in the composition of ghyll woodland plant communities and that bryophyte populations are displaying symptoms of genetic isolation. The study illustrates the importance of some form of monitoring program if the biodiversity value of these sites is to be maintained.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: C000 Biological and Biomedical Sciences ; C200 Plant Science ; F800 Physical Geography and Environmental Sciences