Aim To contrast floristic spatial patterns and the importance of habitat fragmentation in two plant communities (grassland and scrubland) in the context of ecological succession. We ask whether plant assemblages are affected by habitat fragmentation and, if so, at what spatial scale? Does the relative importance of the niche differentiation and dispersal-limitation mechanisms change throughout secondary succession? Is the dispersal-limitation mechanism related to plant functional traits?
Location A Mediterranean region, the massif of Albera (Spain).
Methods Using a SPOT satellite image to describe the landscape, we tested the effect of habitat fragmentation on species composition, determining the spatial scale of the assemblage response. We then assessed the relative importance of dispersal-related factors (habitat fragmentation and geographical distance) and environmental constraints (climate-related variables) influencing species similarity. We tested the association between dispersal-related factors and plant traits (dispersal mode and life form).
Results In both community types, plant composition was partially affected by the surrounding vegetation. In scrublands, animal-dispersed and woody plants were abundant in landscapes dominated by closed forests, whereas wind-dispersed annual herbs were poorly represented in those landscapes. Scrubby assemblages were more dependent on geographical distance, habitat fragmentation and climate conditions (temperature, rainfall and solar radiation); grasslands were described only by habitat fragmentation and rainfall. Plant traits did not explain variation in spatial structuring of assemblages.
Main conclusions Plant establishment in early Mediterranean communities may be driven primarily by migration from neighbouring established communities, whereas the importance of habitat specialization and community drift increases over time. Plant life forms and dispersal modes did not explain the spatial variation of species distribution, but species richness within the community with differing plant traits was affected by habitat patchiness.
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