Species area relationships in mediterranean-climate plant communities

Journal of Biogeography

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Aim To determine the best-fit model of species–area relationships for Mediterranean-type plant communities and evaluate how community structure affects these species–area models.

Location Data were collected from California shrublands and woodlands and compared with literature reports for other Mediterranean-climate regions.

Methods The number of species was recorded from 1, 100 and 1000 m2 nested plots. Best fit to the power model or exponential model was determined by comparing adjusted r2 values from the least squares regression, pattern of residuals, homoscedasticity across scales, and semi-log slopes at 1–100 m2 and 100–1000 m2. Dominance–diversity curves were tested for fit to the lognormal model, MacArthur's broken stick model, and the geometric and harmonic series.

Results Early successional Western Australia and California shrublands represented the extremes and provide an interesting contrast as the exponential model was the best fit for the former, and the power model for the latter, despite similar total species richness. We hypothesize that structural differences in these communities account for the different species–area curves and are tied to patterns of dominance, equitability and life form distribution. Dominance–diversity relationships for Western Australian heathlands exhibited a close fit to MacArthur's broken stick model, indicating more equitable distribution of species. In contrast, Californian shrublands, both postfire and mature stands, were best fit by the geometric model indicating strong dominance and many minor subordinate species. These regions differ in life form distribution, with annuals being a major component of diversity in early successional Californian shrublands although they are largely lacking in mature stands. Both young and old Australian heathlands are dominated by perennials, and annuals are largely absent. Inherent in all of these ecosystems is cyclical disequilibrium caused by periodic fires. The potential for community reassembly is greater in Californian shrublands where only a quarter of the flora resprout, whereas three quarters resprout in Australian heathlands.

Other Californian vegetation types sampled include coniferous forests, oak savannas and desert scrub, and demonstrate that different community structures may lead to a similar species–area relationship. Dominance–diversity relationships for coniferous forests closely follow a geometric model whereas associated oak savannas show a close fit to the lognormal model. However, for both communities, species–area curves fit a power model. The primary driver appears to be the presence of annuals. Desert scrub communities illustrate dramatic changes in both species diversity and dominance–diversity relationships in high and low rainfall years, because of the disappearance of annuals in drought years.

Main conclusions Species–area curves for immature shrublands in California and the majority of Mediterranean plant communities fit a power function model. Exceptions that fit the exponential model are not because of sampling error or scaling effects, rather structural differences in these communities provide plausible explanations. The exponential species–area model may arise in more than one way. In the highly diverse Australian heathlands it results from a rapid increase in species richness at small scales. In mature California shrublands it results from very depauperate richness at the community scale. In both instances the exponential model is tied to a preponderance of perennials and paucity of annuals. For communities fit by a power model, coefficients z and log c exhibit a number of significant correlations with other diversity parameters, suggesting that they have some predictive value in ecological communities.

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Journal Article
Species area relationships in mediterranean-climate plant communities
Series title:
Journal of Biogeography
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Contributing office(s):
Western Ecological Research Center
29 p.
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