Question: Does community assembly on roadsides differ between two contrasting habitats along a stress–productivity gradient? Is establishment success determined by the regional pool, environmental filters or historical events?
Location: Highway roadcuts and embankments in central Spain (40°29′N, 03°34′W).
Methods: Species composition was recorded annually in 45 plots distributed on steep slopes with newly exposed surfaces (roadcuts) or newly built topsoiled substrates (embankments), for 4 years following hydroseeding with standard or native seed mixture. Frequency of appearance and local colonization and extinction rates of individual species were clustered in establishment success groups. We examined the correspondence between descriptive plant traits and species performance on both roadslope types.
Results: Roadslope species richness showed a sustained increase over time, although at consistently lower levels and rates on the more productive embankments. Sixty per cent of the colonization events involved species from the surrounding vegetation. Hydroseeded species persisted through time, but did not modify community composition or dynamics. A higher establishment success rate was found in wind-pollinated species with large seeds and in exotic species. Those species growing on embankments showed an equal or higher establishment success rate on roadcuts and, conversely, species from roadcuts exhibited an equal or lower success rate on embankments.
Conclusions: At the initial stages of community assemblage on unproductive newly created areas, species richness was shaped by the regional species pool. Communities on less harsh topsoiled embankments were subjected, however, to the filtering effect of competitive exclusion. In a reclamation context, efforts to increase site productivity may have detrimental consequences for in situ conservation of local diversity.