Variation in structure and diversity in Mediterranean grasslands related to trophic status and grazing intensity



Abstract. The spatial organization of Mediterranean grassland in Spain is described, based on samples from 71 sites covering the existing variation in slope exposition and inclination.The whole set can be regarded as representing a trophic gradient, along which gradual variation in soil, species composition, biomass, and coverage were quantified. Corresponding to other studies from varying habitats, maximal species richness, diversity, and heterogeneity were observed on moderately infertile sites. Maximum species richness, over 60 species, occurred on sites with biomass values from 150–350 g / m2. Species richness values are much higher and biomass values are much lower than those found in temperate grasslands. The decrease in diversity towards the mosteutrophic communities is stronger than expected, but can be easily explained by the high grazing pressure here. The variation in diversity observed runs parallel with that in heterogeneity. Zones with a high species richness also have a high heterogeneity, meaning a low amount of dominance.

Grazing is understood as abiotic form of disturbance. Differences in grazing pressure may modify the relation between richness and fertility. While the greatest grazing pressure coincides with the most eutrophic communities, decreasing progressively towards the oligotrophic ones, the trend predicted by the resource availability theory is maintained; species diversity will be maximal at intermediate levels of disturbance. Absence of grazing in the eutrophic communities would lead to an investment in the soil of the unconsumed organic matter.