Response of snails and slugs to fragmentation of lowland forests in NW Germany.
Habitat fragmentation is a major cause for species loss, but its effect on invertebrates with low active dispersal power, like terrestrial gastropods, has rarely been studied. Such species can not cross a hostile habitat matrix, for which the predictions of island theory, such as positive relations between species richness and patch size, should apply. In order to test this prediction, we studied gastropod species diversity by assessing gastropod assemblage characteristics from 35 sites in 19 fragments of deciduous old-growth forests in the Lower Rhine Embayment, Germany. Assemblages differed between larger (≥700 ha) and smaller forests (<400 ha), those of large forests held a higher percentage of forest species. Although α-diversity was similar between the two forest size classes, small forests often comprised matrix species, resulting in a higher β-diversity. Edge effects on the species richness of matrix species were noticeable up to 250 m into the forest. Hierarchical partitioning revealed that distance to disturbances (external edge, internal edges like roads) explained most assemblage variables, whereas forest size and woodland cover within a 1 km radius from the sites explained only a few assemblage variables. Densities of two forest-associated species, Discus rotundatus and Arion fuscus, decreased with forest size. Yet, forest size was positively correlated with richness of typical forest species and densities of Limax cinereoniger. The latter species seems to need forests of >1,000 ha, i.e., well above the size of most fragments. In conclusion, the prediction is valid only for forest species. The response to fragmentation is species specific and seems to depend on habitat specialization and macroclimatic conditions.