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The role of landscape composition and heterogeneity on the taxonomical and functional diversity of Mediterranean plant communities in agricultural landscapes.

Research paper by Joana J Cursach, Juan J Rita, Carmelo C Gómez-Martínez, Carles C Cardona, Miquel M Capó, Amparo A Lázaro

Indexed on: 18 Sep '20Published on: 17 Sep '20Published in: PloS one



Abstract

The expansion of agriculture is a major driver of biodiversity loss worldwide, through changes generated in the landscape. Despite this, very little is still known about the complex relationships between landscape composition and heterogeneity and plant taxonomical and functional diversity in Mediterranean ecosystems that have been extensively managed during millennia. Although according to the Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis (IDH) plant richness might peak at intermediate disturbance levels, functional diversity might increase with landscape heterogeneity and decrease with the intensity of disturbance. Here, we evaluated the associations of landscape composition (percentage of crops) and heterogeneity (diversity of land-cover classes) with plant taxonomical diversity (richness, diversity, evenness), local contribution to beta diversity, and functional diversity (functional richness, evenness, divergence and dispersion) in 20 wild Olea europaea communities appearing within agricultural landscapes of Mallorca Island (Western Mediterranean Basin). In accordance with the IDH, we found that overall plant richness peaked at intermediate levels of crops in the landscape, whereas plant evenness showed the opposite pattern, because richness peak was mainly related to an increase in scarce ruderal species. Plant communities surrounded by very heterogeneous landscapes were those contributing the most to beta diversity and showing the highest functional richness and evenness, likely because diverse landscapes favour the colonization of new species and traits into the communities. In addition, landscape heterogeneity decreased functional divergence (i.e., increased trait overlap of dominant species) which may enhance community resilience against disturbances through a higher functional redundancy. However, a large extent of agriculture in the landscape might reduce such resilience, as this disturbance acted as an environmental filter that decreased functional dispersion (i.e, remaining species shared similar traits). Overall, our study highlights the importance of considering several indices of taxonomical and functional diversity to deeply understand the complex relationships between ecosystems functions and landscape context.