Patterns of plant species and community diversity at different organization levels in a forested riparian landscape



Abstract. Integrated synusial phytosociology combined with traditional measures of diversity is used to describe the structure of vascular vegetation diversity along the forested riparian landscape of the upper Oise valley (Belgium and France). The two dimensions (longitudinal and lateral) of the geomorphological complex are examined at four scales: synusia, phytocoenosis, tesela and catena. The results support the following hypotheses: (1) the environmental gradients observed, particularly the lateral ones, are very complex; (2) there is a clear lack of coupling between the tree, shrub and herb layers, which indicates a differential response to the underlying influence of environmental controls; (3) moderate flooding-induced disturbance enhances herb species richness; (4) stressful environments support a low plant species diversity but a high synusial richness; (5) natural factors (substrate, climate, disturbance) are more important at the synusia and phytocoenose scales, but (6) anthropogenic disturbances, mainly through forest and river management, are more important at the landscape level. By considering plant communities as structural-dynamic entities of ecosystems in a landscape context, integrated synusial phytosociology provides a basis for decomposing a complex system since the different hierarchical levels are both nested and thus strongly relational and process-based.