• Climate change;
  • competition release;
  • Doñana National Park;
  • facilitation;
  • recruitment;
  • stress-gradient hypothesis;
  • vegetation dynamics


Extreme climate events, such as severe drought episodes, may induce changes in vegetation if they induce species-specific adult mortality and changes in the seedling recruitment pattern. In 2005 a severe drought occurred in Doñana National Park (south Spain) causing extensive shrubland mortality. Over the following years we monitored the soil seed bank and seedling emergence via a gradient of canopy dieback induced by the drought episode. The canopy dieback corresponded to an increase in emergence of seedlings of woody species in 2007, probably because of the reduced competition induced by canopy loss. The soil seed bank of woody species sampled in 2008 was less abundant on plots with a higher proportion of dead vegetation, probably because of depletion of the seed bank as a result of the increased germination in the previous year and also as a result of a reduction in seed supply in these sites. Accordingly, in 2009 we detected reduced emergence of woody species on plots that had suffered the greatest shrub mortality. We failed to find any significant changes in patterns of the soil seed bank and seedling emergence of short-lived herbaceous species, indicating greater resilience in these types of species. This study highlights the resilience of Mediterranean shrublands to climate fluctuations at one extreme of the variability characteristic of these ecosystems. An increase in the frequency of severe drought episodes – increasingly probable under the new climate conditions – does have the potential, however, to induce changes in vegetation, especially in woody communities that need more time to replenish their seed banks.