We studied the effect of grazing on the degree of regression of successional vegetation dynamic in a semi-arid Mediterranean matorral. We quantified the spatial distribution patterns of the vegetation by fractal analyses, using the fractal information dimension and spatial autocorrelation measured by detrended fluctuation analyses (DFA). It is the first time that fractal analysis of plant spatial patterns has been used to characterize the regressive ecological succession. Plant spatial patterns were compared over a long-term grazing gradient (low, medium and heavy grazing pressure) and on ungrazed sites for two different plant communities: A middle dense matorral of Chamaerops and Periploca at Sabinar-Romeral and a middle dense matorral of Chamaerops, Rhamnus and Ulex at Requena-Montano. The two communities differed also in the microclimatic characteristics (sea oriented at the Sabinar-Romeral site and inland oriented at the Requena-Montano site). The information fractal dimension increased as we moved from a middle dense matorral to discontinuous and scattered matorral and, finally to the late regressive succession, at Stipa steppe stage. At this stage a drastic change in the fractal dimension revealed a change in the vegetation structure, accurately indicating end successional vegetation stages. Long-term correlation analysis (DFA) revealed that an increase in grazing pressure leads to unpredictability (randomness) in species distributions, a reduction in diversity, and an increase in cover of the regressive successional species, e.g. Stipa tenacissima L. These comparisons provide a quantitative characterization of the successional dynamic of plant spatial patterns in response to grazing perturbation gradient. ?? 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
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Quantitative characterization of the regressive ecological succession by fractal analysis of plant spatial patterns