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Microhabitat effects on herbaceous nutrient concentrations at the community and species level in Mediterranean open woodlands: the role of species composition

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Abstract

The presence of a woody canopy in open oak woodlands affects not only the nutrition but also the species composition of the herbaceous community. Yet, the contribution of both effects (changes in nutrient concentrations and species composition) to total resources that are captured by the herbaceous community is not well understood. We assessed the mineral nutrition (N, P, K and Ca) of three herbaceous species and the herbaceous community as well as the species composition in contrasting microhabitats (beneath trees, beneath a leguminous shrub and in open spaces). Both trees and shrubs increased the nutrient concentrations of the herbaceous species that were studied, except for Taraxacum officinale. Their effects were less consistent when the entire community was considered and depended upon the nutrient being analysed. Species richness and N, P and K concentrations were positively associated, suggesting that more nutrients are captured by the herbaceous community as diversity increases. Our results suggest a close relationship between species composition and nutritional value at the community level that may explain the discrepancies observed between both levels of analysis (species vs. community). Thus, farm-level strategies based on the whole herbaceous community may overlook processes operating at the species level, which can be relevant to achieve sustainable management.

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