Few studies have focused explicitly on the later stages of the fragmentation process, or "late-stage fragmentation", during which habitat area and patch number decrease simultaneously. This lack of attention is despite the fact that many of the anthropogenically fragmented habitats around the world are, or soon will be, in late-stage fragmentation. Understanding the ecological processes and patterns that occur in late-stage fragmentation is critical to protect the species richness in these fragments. We investigated plant species composition on 152 islands in the Thousand Island Lake, China. A random sampling method was used to create simulated fragmented landscapes with different total habitat areas and numbers of patches mimicking the process of late-stage fragmentation. The response of the landscape-scale species-area relationship (LSAR) to fragmentation per se was investigated, and the contribution of inter-specific differences in the responses to late-stage fragmentation was tested. We found that the loss of species at small areas was compensated for by the effects of fragmentation per se, i.e., there were weak area effects on species richness in landscapes due to many patches with irregular shapes and high variation in size. The study also illustrated the importance of inter-specific differences for responses to fragmentation in that the LSARs of rare and common species were differently influenced by the effects of fragmentation per se. In conclusion, our analyses at the landscape scale demonstrate the significant influences of fragmentation per se on area effects and the importance of inter-specific differences for responses to fragmentation in late-stage fragmentation. These findings add to our understanding of the effects of habitat fragmentation on species diversity.
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