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Indication of antagonistic interaction between climate change and erosion on plant species richness and soil properties in semiarid Mediterranean ecosystems


P. García-Fayos, CIDE. Apartado Oficial, 46470 Albal, Valencia, Spain, tel. +34 961220540, fax +34 961270967, e-mail:


We analyzed the consequences of climate change and the increase in soil erosion, as well as their interaction on plant and soil properties in semiarid Mediterranean shrublands in Eastern Spain. Current models on drivers of biodiversity change predict an additive or synergistic interaction between drivers that will increase the negative effects of each one. We used a climatic gradient that reproduces the predicted climate changes in temperature and precipitation for the next 40 years of the wettest and coldest end of the gradient; we also compared flat areas with 20° steep hillslopes. We found that plant species richness and plant cover are negatively affected by climate change and soil erosion, which in turn negatively affects soil resistance to erosion, nutrient content and water holding capacity. We also found that plant species diversity correlates weakly with plant cover but strongly with soil properties related to fertility, water holding capacity and resistance to erosion. Conversely, these soil properties correlate weaker with plant species cover. The joint effect of climate change and soil erosion on plant species richness and soil characteristics is antagonistic. That is, the absolute magnitude of change is smaller than the sum of both effects. However, there is no interaction between climate change and soil erosion on plant cover and their effects fit the additive model. The differences in the interaction model between plant cover and species richness supports the view that several soil properties are more linked to the effect that particular plant species have on soil processes than to the quantity and quality of the plant cover and biomass they support. Our findings suggest that plant species richness is a better indicator than plant cover of ecosystems services related with soil development and protection to erosion in semiarid Mediterranean climates.