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Altitude and woody cover control recruitment of Helleborus foetidus in a Mediterranean mountain area


  • José M. Ramírez,

  • Pedro J. Rey,

  • Julio M. Alcántara,

  • Alfonso M. Sánchez-Lafuente

J. M. Ramírez (, P. J. Rey and J. M. Alcántara, Dept de Biología Animal, Biología Vegetal y Ecología, Univ. de Jaén, ES-23071 Jaén, Spain. – A. M. Sánchez-Lafuente, Dept de Biología Vegetal y Ecología, Univ. de Sevilla, ES-41012 Sevilla, Spain.


This study explores how variation of macro- and micro-climatic conditions associated with changes in altitude affect early recruitment dynamics of the perennial herb Helleborus foetidus (Ranunculaceae). We also analyse the relevance of facilitation by woody vegetation on seedling recruitment along altitudinal gradient. We conducted a sowing experiment testing the effect of altitude (using three populations located at 1100, 1400 and 1650 m a.s.l.) and woody cover (open areas vs cover of woody species) on seedling emergence during two years and survival three years after sowing. Simultaneously, we characterised elevations and cover types in terms of climatic factors (surface air temperature and relative humidity) throughout a whole year, and light conditions (global site factor and red/infrared ligh ratio) using hemispheric photographs. We detected a significant effect of elevation on seedling emergence, with a higher emergence at lowest altitude. Woody cover greatly affected seedling survival and recruitment, both rates being higher under woody species than in open areas. Emergence was negatively correlated with winter stress factors, which increased with elevation. Survival and recruitment were negatively correlated with summer stress factors, which were ameliorated by woody cover and with altitude. Amelioration of climatic factors by woody cover was not influenced by altitude. Implications for species persistence in Mediterranean mountains under climate change scenarios are discussed.

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