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Keywords:

  • ecosystem functioning;
  • Pistacia lentiscus;
  • plant–plant interactions;
  • seedling survival;
  • semiarid steppes Stipa tenacissima

Abstract

Theoretical models emphasize the importance of considering the composition, structure, and functioning of an ecosystem when restoring it. However, there is a lack of empirical studies evaluating how these ecosystem attributes are linked, if any, to the success of restoration actions. We conducted experimental plantings of the native late-successional shrub Pistacia lentiscus in 10 semiarid steppes located in southeast Spain and related seedling survival rates to measures of ecosystem structure and composition and to surrogates of ecosystem functioning. Seedling survival widely differed among the studied steppes and 17 months after planting ranged from 0 to 89%. Mortality occurred mostly during the first summer in the field, coinciding with a strong drought lasting 3 months. Survival was lower in the steppes located at the highest altitudes and with the highest values of total plant cover, species richness, shrub cover, and functionality. Seedling survival was mainly controlled by abiotic conditions and showed a negative relationship with some of the surrogates of ecosystem functioning evaluated. Our results suggest, but cannot confirm, that the functional status of the ecosystem may not limit the early stages of establishment of P. lentiscus in semiarid steppes and that abiotic conditions play an overriding role in this process. If true, its introduction in these areas would not necessarily need a previous phase of recovery of ecosystem functions like nutrient cycling and infiltration.