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Patterns of species richness on very small islands: the plants of the Aegean archipelago


*Spyros Sfenthourakis, Section of Animal Biology, Department of Biology, University of Patras, GR-26500 Patras, Greece.


Aim  To investigate the species–area relationship (SAR) of plants on very small islands, to examine the effect of other factors on species richness, and to check for a possible Small Island Effect (SIE).

Location  The study used data on the floral composition of 86 very small islands (all < 0.050 km2) of the Aegean archipelago (Greece).

Methods  We used standard techniques for linear and nonlinear regression in order to check several models of the SAR, and stepwise multiple regression to check for the effects of factors other than area on species richness (‘habitat diversity’, elevation, and distance from nearest large island), as well as the performance of the Choros model. We also checked for the SAR of certain taxonomic and ecological plant groups that are of special importance in eastern Mediterranean islands, such as halophytes, therophytes, Leguminosae and Gramineae. We used one-way anova to check for differences in richness between grazed and non-grazed islands, and we explored possible effects of nesting seabirds on the islands’ flora.

Results  Area explained a small percentage of total species richness variance in all cases. The linearized power model of the SAR provided the best fit for the total species list and several subgroups of species, while the semi-log model provided better fits for grazed islands, grasses and therophytes. None of the nonlinear models explained more variance. The slope of the SAR was very high, mainly due to the contribution of non-grazed islands. No significant SIE could be detected. The Choros model explained more variance than all SARs, although a large amount of variance of species richness still remained unexplained. Elevation was found to be the only important factor, other than area, to influence species richness. Habitat diversity did not seem important, although there were serious methodological problems in properly defining it, especially for plants. Grazing was an important factor influencing the flora of small islands. Grazed islands were richer than non-grazed, but the response of their species richness to area was particularly low, indicating decreased floral heterogeneity among islands. We did not detect any important effects of the presence of nesting seabird colonies.

Main conclusions  Species richness on small islands may behave idiosyncratically, but this does not always lead to a typical SIE. Plants of Aegean islets conform to the classical Arrhenius model of the SAR, a result mainly due to the contribution of non-grazed islands. At the same time, the factors examined explain a small portion of total variance in species richness, indicating the possible contribution of other, non-standard factors, or even of stochastic effects. The proper definition of habitat diversity as pertaining to the taxon examined in each case is a recurrent problem in such studies. Nevertheless, the combined effect of area and a proxy for environmental heterogeneity is once again superior to area alone in explaining species richness.