Estonian Wooded Meadow Shares the World Record for Species Richness with Rain Forests

Which spot in the world has the greatest number of species? It depends on the size of the picture you’re viewing.

Laelatu wooded meadow in Estonia

Laelatu wooded meadow in Estonia is the record holder for species richness in areas of 10×10 and 20×20 cm. Image credit: Olev Mihkelmaa / Wikimedia Commons.

Professor Meelis Partel of the macroecology workgroup at the University of Tartu, in conjunction with colleagues from New Zealand, USA and Germany, has published a list of world diversity records for vascular plants in the Journal of Vegetation Science – the first ever. They observed various ranges of area, from one square millimeter to one hectare.

When it comes to territories of 50 square meters or more, world records can be found in the South American rain forests of Costa Rica and Columbia. The greatest scale – one hectare – is topped by a tropical rain forest in Ecuador where 942 different species of plants coexist.

But the record on a significantly smaller scale belongs to the Laelatu wooded meadow in western Estonia, near Virtsu, which boasts two world records for diversity. Laelatu was found to contain 25 different plants in an area of 10×10 centimeters and 42 species in an area of 20×20 cm.

A sandy grassland in Germany holds the record for the smallest scale (one square millimeter). A mountain meadow in Argentina has the most species (89) for a square meter.

“While in a rain forest the abundance of species can be protected by hindering human intervention, European species-diverse meadows need immediate help from ecologists for restoration and continuation of the traditional management of the areas,” Partel said. J. Bastow Wilson, Robert K. Peet, Jürgen Dengler, & Meelis Pärtel (2012). Plant species richness: the world records Journal of Vegetation Science DOI: 10.1111/j.1654-1103.2012.01400.x

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