• δ13C;
  • δ15N;
  • root allocation;
  • seed size;
  • shrubs

1. We hypothesized that in Mediterranean plant communities seedling survival of different species during the drought period would be related to their ability to use below-ground resources, particularly water and nitrogen.

2. For 5 years we studied under field conditions the summer seedling survival of 11 dominant species of a Spanish Mediterranean shrubland. We related seedling survival of the different species to their seed size and root allocation estimated as the slope of the function root biomass vs log shoot biomass. We used δ13C for the estimation of water-use efficiency and δ15N and nitrogen concentration to determine the sources of nitrogen utilized. We correlated these variables with root allocation.

3. Seedling survival of the different species was positively correlated with root allocation and seed size. Root allocation was also positively correlated with seed size. δ15N and nitrogen concentration were also positively correlated with root allocation, but δ13C was not.

4. Under the relatively moist conditions occurring during summer 1996, higher root allocation was associated with the use of nitrogen from more nitrogen saturated microsites.