With appropriate management, based on vegetation removal that reverses late-successional vegetation stages, roadsides can support high levels of biodiversity. However, current recommendations for roadside management to conserve or restore biodiversity are largely based on research on non-roadside grassland habitats, and much of the evidence on how roadside management practices affect biodiversity is found in non-peer-reviewed grey literature. Therefore, based on suggestions from key stakeholders and an initial systematic map that identified 97 studies on how biodiversity is affected by vegetation removal on roadsides, we conducted a full systematic review of the effects on plant and invertebrate diversity of disturbance-based maintenance of roadsides.
The review was restricted to effects of non-chemical interventions such as mowing, burning, grazing and mechanical shrub removal. Studies were selected from the systematic map and from an updated search for more recent literature using a priori eligibility criteria. Relevant articles were subject to critical appraisal of clarity and susceptibility to bias, and studies with low or unclear validity were excluded from the review. Data on species richness, species diversity and abundance of functional groups were extracted together with metadata on site properties and other potential effect modifiers. Results from the 54 included studies were summarised in a narrative synthesis, and impacts of mowing practices on the total species richness and diversity of plants and on the abundance of forbs, graminoids and woody plants were quantitatively analysed using t tests of study-level effect ratios.
Nearly all of the 54 studies included in the review were conducted in Europe (29) or North America (24). The vast majority of studies (48) examined impacts of mowing. Effects on vascular plants were reported in 51 studies, whereas 8 of the studies reported on invertebrates. Quantitative analysis of plant species richness and species diversity showed that mowing effects were dependent on the interplay between mowing frequency and hay removal. Thus, there were no statistically significant overall effects of mowing vs. no mowing, frequency of mowing, timing of mowing or hay removal. However, species richness was higher in roadsides mowed once or twice per year with hay removal than in unmown roadsides, and positively affected by mowing twice compared to once per year. Similar, but less pronounced, effects were found for plant species diversity. In addition, mowing had a negative impact on woody plant abundance, and increased mowing frequency had a negative impact on graminoid abundance. The few studies on invertebrates showed effects that diverged across taxon groups, and there was not enough data for quantitative analysis of these results.
The results provide evidence on the effects of mowing on plant species richness. To increase plant species richness, roadsides should be mowed each year, preferably twice per year, and hay should be removed after each cutting. The review also identifies large knowledge gaps concerning roadside management and its effects on biodiversity, especially regarding invertebrates. Hence, this systematic review provides not only a valuable basis for evidence-based management but also guidance for future research on this topic, essential to inform management of road networks for biodiversity conservation.
Biodiversity, Burning, Grazing, Invertebrates, Mowing, Species diversity, Species richness, Vegetation removal
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