Disentangling the relative effects of environmental versus human factors on the abundance of native and alien plant species in Mediterranean sandy shores


Correspondence: Marta Carboni, Dipartimento di Biologia Ambientale, Università degli Studi Roma Tre, V.le Marconi 446, 00146 Roma, Italy.
E-mail: mcarboni@uniroma3.it


Aim  Mediterranean coastal sand dunes are characterized by both very stressful environmental conditions and intense human pressure. This work aims to separate the relative contributions of environmental and human factors in determining the presence/abundance of native and alien plant species in such an extreme environment at a regional scale.

Location  250 km of the Italian Tyrrhenian coast (Region Lazio).

Methods  We analysed alien and native plant richness and fitted generalized additive models in a multimodel-inference framework with comprehensive randomizations to evaluate the relative contribution of environmental and human correlates in explaining the observed patterns.

Results  Native and alien richness are positively correlated, but different variables influence their spatial patterns. For natives, human population density is the most important factor and is negatively related to richness. Numbers of natives are unexpectedly lower in areas with a high proportion of natural land cover (probably attributable to local farming practices) and, to a lesser degree, affected by the movement of the coastline. On the other hand, alien species richness is strongly related to climatic factors, and more aliens are found in sectors with high rainfall. Secondarily, alien introductions appear to be related to recent urban sprawl and associated gardening.

Main conclusions  Well-adapted native species in a fragile equilibrium with their natural environment are extremely sensitive to human-driven modifications. On the contrary, for more generalist alien species, the availability of limited resources plays a predominant role.