Taxonomical and functional diversity turnover in Mediterranean grasslands: interactions between grazing, habitat type and rainfall


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  1. Changes in livestock grazing regimes are among the most important drivers of species loss and decrease in functional diversity world-wide. However, taxonomic and functional diversities (TD and FD) can respond differently to changes in grazing regime or productivity.
  2. We surveyed plant communities from 67 sites under different grazing regimes (from heavy grazing to grazing abandonment) in wet and dry habitats, in both wet and dry years. We tested the influence of grazing intensity, habitat type and rainfall on TD, FD and the relationship between them. We also partitioned diversity to examine the effects of grazing on TD and FD across scales (within communities, within grazing levels and between grazing levels).
  3. The effect of grazing within and across communities was modulated by water availability, with grazing showing the strongest effects in dry habitats. The relationship between FD and TD varied between habitat types and years and revealed high functional similarity between species (i.e. redundancy) in dry habitats. TD was reduced in the driest conditions across all the observation levels, contrasting with the high temporal stability of FD, suggesting that FD was decoupled from TD, especially in dry habitats. However, despite the high temporal and spatial stability of FD, results show that under severely limited water availability, high grazing pressure can reduce FD, revealing a convergence in traits under the combined effect of grazing and drought conditions.
  4. Synthesis and applications. Results highlight the dependence of functional diversity on the combined effect of water availability and grazing regime. Under severely limited water availability, grazing intensification reduced the functional diversity of these grasslands. Because of the foreseeable reduction in water availability in Mediterranean environments, we recommend the adoption of flexible grazing management schemes that take species and functional diversities into account simultaneously and adapt the level of grazing pressure to water availability.