On the importance of patch attributes, environmental factors and past human impacts as determinants of perennial plant species richness and diversity in Mediterranean semiarid steppes

Authors

  • Fernando T. Maestre

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    1. Departamento de Ecología, Universidad de Alicante, Apartado de correos 99, 03080 Alicante, Spain
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      Present address: Department of Biology, Duke University, Phytotron Building, Science Drive, Box 90340, Durham, North Carolina 27708–0340, USA. Tel.: 1-919-660-7406. Fax.: 1-919-660-7425. E-mail: maestre@duke.edu
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Corresponding author
Present address: Department of Biology, Duke University, Phytotron Building, Science Drive, Box 90340, Durham, North Carolina 27708–0340, USA. Tel.: 1-919-660-7406. Fax.: 1-919-660-7425. E-mail: maestre@duke.edu

ABSTRACT

Richness and diversity of perennial plant species were evaluated in 17 Stipa tenacissima steppes along a degradation gradient in semiarid SE Spain. The main objective of the study was to evaluate the relative importance of historical human impacts, small-scale patch attributes and environmental factors as determinants of perennial plant species richness and diversity in S. tenacissima steppes, where vegetation is arranged as discrete plant patches inserted on a bare ground matrix. Partial least squares regression was used to determine the amount of variation in species richness and diversity that could be significantly explained by historical human impacts, patch attributes, and environmental factors together and separately. They explained up to 89% and 69% of the variation in species richness and diversity, respectively. In both cases, the predictive power of patch attributes models was higher than that of models consisting of abiotic characteristics and variables related to human impact, suggesting that patch attributes are the major determinants of species richness and diversity in semiarid S. tenacissima steppes. However, patch attributes alone are not enough to explain the observed variation in species richness and diversity. The area covered by late-successional sprouting shrubs and the distance between consecutive patches were the most influencing individual variables on species richness and diversity, respectively. The implications of these results for the management of S. tenacissima steppes are discussed.

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