Inferring resilience to fragmentation-induced changes in plant communities in a semi-arid Mediterranean ecosystem.

Research paper by Ángel Á de Frutos, Teresa T Navarro, Yolanda Y Pueyo, Concepción L CL Alados

Indexed on: 20 Mar '15Published on: 20 Mar '15Published in: PloS one


Predicting the capacity of ecosystems to absorb impacts from disturbance events (resilience), including land-use intensification and landscape fragmentation, is challenging in the face of global change. Little is known about the impacts of fragmentation on ecosystem functioning from a multi-dimensional perspective (multiple traits). This study used 58 500-m linear transects to quantify changes in the functional composition and resilience of vascular plant communities in response to an increase in landscape fragmentation in 18 natural scrubland fragments embedded within a matrix of abandoned crop fields in Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park, Almería, Spain. Changes in functional community composition were measured using functional diversity indices (functional richness and functional dispersion) that were based on 12 plant traits. Resilience was evaluated using the functional redundancy and response diversity from the perspective of plant dispersal, which is important, particularly, in fragmented landscapes. Scrubland fragmentation was measured using the Integral Index of Connectivity (IIC). The functional richness of the plant communities was higher in the most fragmented scrubland. Conversely, the functional dispersion (i.e., spread) of trait values among species in the functional trait space was lower at the most fragmented sites; consequently, the ecological tolerance of the vegetation to scrubland fragmentation decreased. Classifying the plant species into four functional groups indicated that fragmentation favoured an increase in functional redundancy in the 'short basal annual forbs and perennial forbs' group, most of which are species adapted to degraded soils. An assessment based on the traits associated with plant dispersal indicated that the resilience of 'woody plants', an important component in the Mediterranean scrubland, and habitat fragmentation were negatively correlated; however, the correlation was positive in the 'short basal annual forbs and perennial forbs' and the 'grasses' groups.

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