Livestock exerts direct and indirect effects on plant communities, changing colonization and extinction rates of species and the surrounding environmental conditions. There is scarce knowledge on how and to what extent these effects control the floristic and functional composition of plant communities in grasslands. We performed an experiment that included several treatments simulating trampling, defoliation, faeces addition and their combinations in a Mediterranean scrub community grazing-abandoned for at least 50 years. We monitored the plots for four years, and collected data on species composition, photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) and red∶far-red ratio (R∶FR), soil moisture and compaction. We estimated community weighted means (CWM) for height, habit, life cycle, seed mass and SLA. Neither compaction nor soil moisture were modified by the treatments, while PAR and R∶FR increased in all treatments in comparison to the Control and Faeces treatments. The floristic composition of all treatments, except for Faeces, converged over time, but deviated from that of the Control. The functional traits displayed the trends expected in the presence of grazing: loss of erect species and increased cover of short species with light seeds, with rosettes and prostrate habit. However, contrary to the results in literature, SLA was lower in all the treatments than Control plots. Like the results for floristic composition, all treatments except for Faeces converged towards a similar functional composition at the end of the four year period. The results of this study show the initial evolution of a Mediterranean plant community in the presence of grazing, driven primarily by the destructive action of livestock. These actions seem to directly affect the rates of extinction/colonization, and indirectly affect the light environment but not the soil conditions. However, their effects on floristic and trait composition do not seem to differ, at least at the small spatio-temporal scale.
Ectomycorrhizal fungi (ECMF) are an important biotic factor in the survival of conifer seedlings under stressful conditions and therefore have the potential to facilitate conifer establishment into alpine and tundra habitats. In order to assess patterns of ectomycorrhizal availability and community structure above treeline, we conducted soil bioassays in which Picea mariana (black spruce) seedlings were grown in field-collected soils under controlled conditions. Soils were collected from distinct alpine habitats, each dominated by a different ectomycorrhizal host shrub: Betula glandulosa, Arctostaphylos alpina or Salix herbacaea. Within each habitat, half of the soils collected contained roots of ectomycorrhizal shrubs (host+) and the other half were free of host plants (host−). Forest and glacial moraine soils were also included for comparison. Fungi forming ectomycorrhizae during the bioassays were identified by DNA sequencing. Our results indicate that ECMF capable of colonizing black spruce are widespread above the current tree line in Eastern Labrador and that the level of available inoculum has a significant influence on the growth of seedlings under controlled conditions. Many of the host− soils possessed appreciable levels of ectomycorrhizal inoculum, likely in the form of spore banks. Inoculum levels in these soils may be influenced by spore production from neighboring soils where ectomycorrhizal shrubs are present. Under predicted temperature increases, ectomycorrhizal inoculum in soils with host shrubs as well as in nearby soils without host shrubs have the potential to facilitate conifer establishment above the present tree line.
Current plant – herbivore interaction models and experiments with mammalian herbivores grazing plant monocultures show the superiority of a maximizing forage quality strategy (MFQ) over a maximizing intake strategy (MI). However, there is a lack of evidence whether grazers comply with the model predictions under field conditions.
We assessed diet selection of sheep (Ovis aries) using plant functional traits in productive mesic vs. low-productivity dry species-rich grasslands dominated by resource-exploitative vs. resource-conservative species respectively. Each grassland type was studied in two replicates for two years. We investigated the first grazing cycle in a set of 288 plots with a diameter of 30 cm, i.e. the size of sheep feeding station. In mesic grasslands, high plot defoliation was associated with community weighted means of leaf traits referring to high forage quality, i.e. low leaf dry matter content (LDMC) and high specific leaf area (SLA), with a high proportion of legumes and the most with high community weighted mean of forage indicator value. In contrast in dry grasslands, high community weighted mean of canopy height, an estimate of forage quantity, was the best predictor of plot defoliation. Similar differences in selection on forage quality vs. quantity were detected within plots. Sheep selected plants with higher forage indicator values than the plot specific community weighted mean of forage indicator value in mesic grasslands whereas taller plants were selected in dry grasslands. However, at this scale sheep avoided legumes and plants with higher SLA, preferred plants with higher LDMC while grazing plants with higher forage indicator values in mesic grasslands.
Our findings indicate that MFQ appears superior over MI only in habitats with a predominance of resource-exploitative species. Furthermore, plant functional traits (LDMC, SLA, nitrogen fixer) seem to be helpful correlates of forage quality only at the community level.
Shifts in plant species distributions due to global change are increasing the availability of novel resources in a variety of ecosystems worldwide. In semiarid riparian areas, hydric pioneer tree species are being replaced by drought-tolerant plant species as water availability decreases. Additionally, introduced omnivorous crayfish, which feed upon primary producers, allochthonous detritus, and benthic invertebrates, can impact communities at multiple levels through both direct and indirect effects mediated by drought-tolerant plants. We tested the impact of both virile crayfish (Orconectes virilis) and litter type on benthic invertebrates and the effect of crayfish on detrital resources across a gradient of riparian vegetation drought-tolerance using field cages with leaf litter bags in the San Pedro River in Southeastern Arizona. Virile crayfish increased breakdown rate of novel drought-tolerant saltcedar (Tamarix ramosissima), but did not impact breakdown of drought-tolerant seepwillow (Baccharis salicifolia) or hydric Fremont cottonwood (Populus fremontii) and Gooding's willow (Salix goodingii). Effects on invertebrate diversity were observed at the litter bag scale, but no effects were found at the cage scale. Crayfish decreased alpha diversity of colonizing macroinvertebrates, but did not affect beta diversity. In contrast, the drought-tolerant litter treatment decreased beta diversity relative to hydric litter. As drought-tolerant species become more abundant in riparian zones, their litter will become a larger component of the organic matter budget of desert streams which may serve to homogenize the litter-dwelling community and support elevated populations of virile crayfish. Through impacts at multiple trophic levels, crayfish have a significant effect on desert stream ecosystems.
Many cushion plants ameliorate the harsh environment they inhabit in alpine ecosystems and act as nurse plants, with significantly more species growing within their canopy than outside. These facilitative interactions seem to increase with the abiotic stress, thus supporting the stress-gradient hypothesis. We tested this prediction by exploring the association pattern of vascular plants with the dominant cushion plant Thylacospermum caespitosum (Caryophyllaceae) in the arid Trans-Himalaya, where vascular plants occur at one of the highest worldwide elevational limits. We compared plant composition between 1112 pair-plots placed both inside cushions and in surrounding open areas, in communities from cold steppes to subnival zones along two elevational gradients (East Karakoram: 4850–5250 m and Little Tibet: 5350–5850 m). We used PERMANOVA to assess differences in species composition, Friedman-based permutation tests to determine individual species habitat preferences, species-area curves to assess whether interactions are size-dependent and competitive intensity and importance indices to evaluate plant-plant interactions. No indications for net facilitation were found along the elevation gradients. The open areas were not only richer in species, but not a single species preferred to grow exclusively inside cushions, while 39–60% of 56 species detected had a significant preference for the habitat outside cushions. Across the entire elevation range of T. caespitosum, the number and abundance of species were greater outside cushions, suggesting that competitive rather than facilitative interactions prevail. This was supported by lower soil nutrient contents inside cushions, indicating a resource preemption, and little thermal amelioration at the extreme end of the elevational gradient. We attribute the negative associations to competition for limited resources, a strong environmental filter in arid high-mountain environment selecting the stress-tolerant species that do not rely on help from other plants during their life cycle and to the fact the cushions do not provide a better microhabitat to grow in.
Plant species with physical seed dormancy are common in mediterranean fire-prone ecosystems. Because fire breaks seed dormancy and enhances the recruitment of many species, this trait might be considered adaptive in fire-prone environments. However, to what extent the temperature thresholds that break physical seed dormancy have been shaped by fire (i.e., for post-fire recruitment) or by summer temperatures in the bare soil (i.e., for recruitment in fire-independent gaps) remains unknown. Our hypothesis is that the temperature thresholds that break physical seed dormancy have been shaped by fire and thus we predict higher dormancy lost in response to fire than in response to summer temperatures. We tested this hypothesis in six woody species with physical seed dormancy occurring in fire-prone areas across the Mediterranean Basin. Seeds from different populations of each species were subject to heat treatments simulating fire (i.e., a single high temperature peak of 100°C, 120°C or 150°C for 5 minutes) and heat treatments simulating summer (i.e., temperature fluctuations; 30 daily cycles of 3 hours at 31°C, 4 hours at 43°C, 3 hours at 33°C and 14 hours at 18°C). Fire treatments broke dormancy and stimulated germination in all populations of all species. In contrast, summer treatments had no effect over the seed dormancy for most species and only enhanced the germination in Ulex parviflorus, although less than the fire treatments. Our results suggest that in Mediterranean species with physical dormancy, the temperature thresholds necessary to trigger seed germination are better explained as a response to fire than as a response to summer temperatures. The high level of dormancy release by the heat produced by fire might enforce most recruitment to be capitalized into a single post-fire pulse when the most favorable conditions occur. This supports the important role of fire in shaping seed traits.
The evolution of increased competitive ability hypothesis (EICA) predicts that when alien plants are free from their natural enemies they evolve lower allocation to defense in order to achieve a higher growth rate. If this hypothesis is true, the converse implication would be that the defense against herbivory could be restored if a natural enemy also becomes present in the introduced range. We tested this scenario in the case of Ambrosia artemisiifolia (common ragweed) – a species that invaded Japan from North America. We collected seeds from five North American populations, three populations in enemy free areas of Japan and four populations in Japan where the specialist herbivore Ophraella communa naturalized recently. Using plants grown in a common garden in Japan, we compared performance of O. communa with a bioassay experiment. Consistent with the EICA hypothesis, invasive Japanese populations of A. artemisiifolia exhibited a weakened defense against the specialist herbivores and higher growth rate than native populations. Conversely, in locations where the herbivore O. communa appeared during the past decade, populations of A. artemisiifolia exhibited stronger defensive capabilities. These results strengthen the case for EICA and suggest that defense levels of alien populations can be recuperated rapidly after the native specialist becomes present in the introduced range. Our study implies that the plant defense is evolutionary labile depending on plant-herbivore interactions.
Cushion plants are commonly considered as keystone nurse species that ameliorate the harsh conditions they inhabit in alpine ecosystems, thus facilitating other species and increasing alpine plant biodiversity. A literature search resulted in 25 key studies showing overwhelming facilitative effects of different cushion plants and hypothesizing greater facilitation with increased environmental severity (i.e. higher altitude and/or lower rainfall). At the same time, emerging ecological theory alongside the cushion-specific literature suggests that facilitation might not always occur under extreme environmental conditions, and especially under high altitude and dryness.
To assess these hypotheses, possible nursing effects of Thylacospermum caespitosum (Caryophyllaceae) were examined at extremely high altitude (5900 m a.s.l.) and in dry conditions (precipitation <100 mm year−1) in Eastern Ladakh, Trans-Himalaya. This is, by far, the highest site, and the second driest, at which the effects of cushions have been studied so far.
In accordance with the theoretical predictions, no nursing effects of T. caespitosum on other alpine plants were detected. The number and abundance of species were greater outside cushions than within and on the edge of cushions. None of the 13 species detected was positively associated with cushions, while nine of them were negatively associated. Plant diversity increased with the size of the area sampled outside cushions, but no species–area relationship was found within cushions.
The results support the emerging theoretical prediction of restricted facilitative effects under extreme combinations of cold and dryness, integrating these ideas in the context of the ecology of cushion plants. This evidence suggests that cases of missing strong facilitation are likely to be found in other extreme alpine conditions.
Alpine plants; Thylacospermum caespitosum; Caryophyllaceae; biodiversity; competition and facilitation; stress; nurse plant; Tibet; Ladakh; Himalaya
Seagrass meadows play an important role in marine ecosystems. A part of seagrass production is also exported to adjacent coastal terrestrial systems, possibly influencing their functioning. In this work we experimentally analyzed the effect of Posidonia oceanica beach-cast on plant germination, growth, and nutrient uptake of two plant species (Cakile maritima and Elymus farctus) that grow on upper beaches and fore dunes along the Mediterranean coasts. We compared plants growing in simple sand (control) with those growing in a substrate enriched with P. oceanica wrack (treatment) in laboratory. P. oceanica wrack doubled the N substrate pool and kept the substrate humid. Plants growing in the treated substrate grew faster, were twice as large as those growing in the control substrate, while tissues were enriched in N and P (Cakile by the 1.3 fold in N and 2.5 fold in P; Elymus by 1.5 fold in N and 2 fold in P). Our results suggest a positive effect of seagrass litter for the enhancing of dune species, highlighting its role for the conservation of coastal dune ecosystems.
Biological invasions are often complex phenomena because many factors influence their outcome. One key aspect is how non-natives interact with the local biota. Interaction with local species may be especially important for exotic species that require an obligatory mutualist, such as Pinaceae species that need ectomycorrhizal (EM) fungi. EM fungi and seeds of Pinaceae disperse independently, so they may use different vectors. We studied the role of exotic mammals as dispersal agents of EM fungi on Isla Victoria, Argentina, where many Pinaceae species have been introduced. Only a few of these tree species have become invasive, and they are found in high densities only near plantations, partly because these Pinaceae trees lack proper EM fungi when their seeds land far from plantations. Native mammals (a dwarf deer and rodents) are rare around plantations and do not appear to play a role in these invasions. With greenhouse experiments using animal feces as inoculum, plus observational and molecular studies, we found that wild boar and deer, both non-native, are dispersing EM fungi. Approximately 30% of the Pinaceae seedlings growing with feces of wild boar and 15% of the seedlings growing with deer feces were colonized by non-native EM fungi. Seedlings growing in control pots were not colonized by EM fungi. We found a low diversity of fungi colonizing the seedlings, with the hypogeous Rhizopogon as the most abundant genus. Wild boar, a recent introduction to the island, appear to be the main animal dispersing the fungi and may be playing a key role in facilitating the invasion of pine trees and even triggering their spread. These results show that interactions among non-natives help explain pine invasions in our study area.
Along elevational gradients, climate warming may lead to an upslope shift of the lower and upper range margin of organisms. A recent meta-analysis concluded that these shifts are species specific and considerably differ among taxonomic lineages. We used the opportunity to compare upper range margins of five lineages (plants, beetles, flies, hymenoptera, and birds) between 1902–1904 and 2006–2007 within one region (Bavarian Forest, Central Europe). Based on the increase in the regional mean annual temperature during this period and the regional lapse rate, the upslope shift is expected to be between 51 and 201 m. Averaged across species within lineages, the range margin of all animal lineages shifted upslope, but that of plants did not. For animals, the observed shifts were probably due to shifts in temperature and not to changes in habitat conditions. The range margin of plants is therefore apparently not constrained by temperature, a result contrasting recent findings. The mean shift of birds (165 m) was within the predicted range and consistent with a recent global meta-analysis. However, the upslope shift of the three insect lineages (>260 m) exceeded the expected shift even after considering several sources of uncertainty, which indicated a non-linear response to temperature. Our analysis demonstrated broad differences among lineages in their response to climate change even within one region. Furthermore, on the considered scale, the response of ectothermic animals was not consistent with expectations based on shifts in the mean annual temperature. Irrespective of the reasons for the overshooting of the response of the insects, these shifts lead to reorganizations in the composition of assemblages with consequences for ecosystem processes.
Climate plays an important role in determining the geographic ranges of species. With rapid climate change expected in the coming decades, ecologists have predicted that species ranges will shift large distances in elevation and latitude. However, most range shift assessments are based on coarse-scale climate models that ignore fine-scale heterogeneity and could fail to capture important range shift dynamics. Moreover, if climate varies dramatically over short distances, some populations of certain species may only need to migrate tens of meters between microhabitats to track their climate as opposed to hundreds of meters upward or hundreds of kilometers poleward. To address these issues, we measured climate variables that are likely important determinants of plant species distributions and abundances (snow disappearance date and soil temperature) at coarse and fine scales at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington State, USA. Coarse-scale differences across the landscape such as large changes in elevation had expected effects on climatic variables, with later snow disappearance dates and lower temperatures at higher elevations. However, locations separated by small distances (∼20 m), but differing by vegetation structure or topographic position, often experienced differences in snow disappearance date and soil temperature as great as locations separated by large distances (>1 km). Tree canopy gaps and topographic depressions experienced later snow disappearance dates than corresponding locations under intact canopy and on ridges. Additionally, locations under vegetation and on topographic ridges experienced lower maximum and higher minimum soil temperatures. The large differences in climate we observed over small distances will likely lead to complex range shift dynamics and could buffer species from the negative effects of climate change.
The coral reefs of northern Bahia evolved in isolation from other Atlantic systems and under conditions of high environmental stress, particularly high turbidity. We have monitored the scleractinian assemblage of four shallow bank reefs (Praia do Forte, Itacimirim, Guarajuba and Abai) annually for 17 years since 1995, collecting quantitative data on diversity and density of coral colonies. As the sampling period included the 1997–8 El Niño event, the most severe on record, for the first time these results allow a quantitative assessment of the long-term impact of this major environmental stressor on such a coral assemblage. After El Niño, most species showed significantly reduced densities of colonies, this decline occurring for the subsequent two years without evidence of any new settlement until 2001. From 2000 to 2007 the species Porites astreoides went unrecorded. Recovery was slow, and multivariate analysis revealed that assemblages had not returned to the pre-El Niño state until 2011. It therefore took 13 years for full recovery of the coral assemblage to occur, which has consequences for reef systems if such El-Niño events become more frequent in the future.
Tree mortality in tropical forests is a complex ecological process for which modelling approaches need to be improved to better understand, and then predict, the evolution of tree mortality in response to global change. The mortality model introduced here computes an individual probability of dying for each tree in a community. The mortality model uses the ontogenetic stage of the tree because youngest and oldest trees are more likely to die. Functional traits are integrated as proxies of the ecological strategies of the trees to permit generalization among all species in the community. Data used to parametrize the model were collected at Paracou study site, a tropical rain forest in French Guiana, where 20,408 trees have been censused for 18 years. A Bayesian framework was used to select useful covariates and to estimate the model parameters. This framework was developed to deal with sources of uncertainty, including the complexity of the mortality process itself and the field data, especially historical data for which taxonomic determinations were uncertain. Uncertainty about the functional traits was also considered, to maximize the information they contain. Four functional traits were strong predictors of tree mortality: wood density, maximum height, laminar toughness and stem and branch orientation, which together distinguished the light-demanding, fast-growing trees from slow-growing trees with lower mortality rates. Our modelling approach formalizes a complex ecological problem and offers a relevant mathematical framework for tropical ecologists to process similar uncertain data at the community level.
The stress gradient hypothesis posits that facilitation and stress are positively correlated. The hump-shaped hypothesis, on the contrary, proposes that facilitation is greater at intermediate stress levels. The relationship between facilitation and environmental stress is commonly studied at small spatial scales and/or considering few species; thus, the implications of facilitation at a community level remain poorly understood. Here, we analyzed local co-occurrence patterns of all plant species at 25 sites within the subtropical Andes to evaluate the role of facilitation and competition as drivers of community structure. We considered a wide latitudinal gradient (19–26°S) that incorporates great variation in aridity. No previous studies have attempted to study these patterns across such a broad scale in warm deserts. Each locality was sampled at two scales (quadrat and patch), and co-occurrence was analyzed via null models. Furthermore, we tested for a relationship between plant co-occurrences and environmental aridity. Resulting patterns depended on life form. When all species were considered, negative associations were found, indicating competition. Woody/cactus life forms tended to be associated across communities, suggesting that there is facilitation between these life forms. Additionally, and unlike previous studies, we found positive associations among shrubs. The strength of the association between woody species changed non-monotonically with aridity. Herbs showed an inverted hump-shaped relationship, albeit ranging mostly among neutral values. Independent of the association type exhibited by different life forms, our community level results do not support current stress gradient hypotheses.
Lichens are a key component of forest biodiversity. However, a comprehensive study analyzing lichen species richness in relation to several management types, extending over different regions and forest stages and including information on site conditions is missing for temperate European forests. In three German regions (Schwäbische Alb, Hainich-Dün, Schorfheide-Chorin), the so-called Biodiversity Exploratories, we studied lichen species richness in 631 forest plots of 400 m2 comprising different management types (unmanaged, selection cutting, deciduous and coniferous age-class forests resulting from clear cutting or shelterwood logging), various stand ages, and site conditions, typical for large parts of temperate Europe. We analyzed how lichen species richness responds to management and habitat variables (standing biomass, cover of deadwood, cover of rocks). We found strong regional differences with highest lichen species richness in the Schwäbische Alb, probably driven by regional differences in former air pollution, and in precipitation and habitat variables. Overall, unmanaged forests harbored 22% more threatened lichen species than managed age-class forests. In general, total, corticolous, and threatened lichen species richness did not differ among management types of deciduous forests. However, in the Schwäbische-Alb region, deciduous forests had 61% more lichen species than coniferous forests and they had 279% more threatened and 76% more corticolous lichen species. Old deciduous age classes were richer in corticolous lichen species than young ones, while old coniferous age-classes were poorer than young ones. Overall, our findings highlight the importance of stand continuity for conservation. To increase total and threatened lichen species richness we suggest (1) conserving unmanaged forests, (2) promoting silvicultural methods assuring stand continuity, (3) conserving old trees in managed forests, (4) promoting stands of native deciduous tree species instead of coniferous plantations, and (5) increasing the amount of deadwood in forests.
To predict the impact of environmental change on species distributions, it has been hypothesized that community-level models could give some benefits compared to species-level models. In this study we have assessed the performance of these two approaches. We surveyed 256 bird communities in an agricultural landscape in southwest France at the same locations in 1982 and 2007. We compared the ability of CQO (canonical quadratic ordination; a method of community-level GLM) and GLMs (generalized linear models) to i) explain species distributions in 1982 and ii) predict species distributions, community composition and species richness in 2007, after land cover change. Our results show that models accounting for shared patterns between species (CQO) slightly better explain the distribution of rare species than models that ignore them (GLMs). Conversely, the predictive performances were better for GLMs than for CQO. At the assemblage level, both CQO and GLMs overestimated species richness, compared with that actually observed in 2007, and projected community composition was only moderately similar to that observed in 2007. Species richness projections tended to be more accurate in sites where land cover change was more marked. In contrast, the composition projections tended to be less accurate in those sites. Both modelling approaches showed a similar but limited ability to predict species distribution and assemblage composition under conditions of land cover change. Our study supports the idea that our community-level model can improve understanding of rare species patterns but that species-level models can provide slightly more accurate predictions of species distributions. At the community level, the similar performance of both approaches for predicting patterns of assemblage variation suggests that species tend to respond individualistically or, alternatively, that our community model was unable to effectively account for the emergent community patterns.
While bryophytes greatly contribute to plant diversity of semi-natural grasslands, little is known about the relationships between land-use intensity, productivity, and bryophyte diversity in these habitats. We recorded vascular plant and bryophyte vegetation in 85 agricultural used grasslands in two regions in northern and central Germany and gathered information on land-use intensity. To assess grassland productivity, we harvested aboveground vascular plant biomass and analyzed nutrient concentrations of N, P, K, Ca and Mg. Further we calculated mean Ellenberg indicator values of vascular plant vegetation. We tested for effects of land-use intensity and productivity on total bryophyte species richness and on the species richness of acrocarpous (small & erect) and pleurocarpous (creeping, including liverworts) growth forms separately. Bryophyte species were found in almost all studied grasslands, but species richness differed considerably between study regions in northern Germany (2.8 species per 16 m2) and central Germany (6.4 species per 16 m2) due environmental differences as well as land-use history. Increased fertilizer application, coinciding with high mowing frequency, reduced bryophyte species richness significantly. Accordingly, productivity estimates such as plant biomass and nitrogen concentration were strongly negatively related to bryophyte species richness, although productivity decreased only pleurocarpous species. Ellenberg indicator values for nutrients proved to be useful indicators of species richness and productivity. In conclusion, bryophyte composition was strongly dependent on productivity, with smaller bryophytes that were likely negatively affected by greater competition for light. Intensive land-use, however, can also indirectly decrease bryophyte species richness by promoting grassland productivity. Thus, increasing productivity is likely to cause a loss of bryophyte species and a decrease in species diversity.
Multitrophic communities that maintain the functionality of the extreme Antarctic terrestrial ecosystems, while the simplest of any natural community, are still challenging our knowledge about the limits to life on earth. In this study, we describe and interpret the linkage between the diversity of different trophic level communities to the geological morphology and soil geochemistry in the remote Transantarctic Mountains (Darwin Mountains, 80°S). We examined the distribution and diversity of biota (bacteria, cyanobacteria, lichens, algae, invertebrates) with respect to elevation, age of glacial drift sheets, and soil physicochemistry. Results showed an abiotic spatial gradient with respect to the diversity of the organisms across different trophic levels. More complex communities, in terms of trophic level diversity, were related to the weakly developed younger drifts (Hatherton and Britannia) with higher soil C/N ratio and lower total soluble salts content (thus lower conductivity). Our results indicate that an increase of ion concentration from younger to older drift regions drives a succession of complex to more simple communities, in terms of number of trophic levels and diversity within each group of organisms analysed. This study revealed that integrating diversity across multi-trophic levels of biotic communities with abiotic spatial heterogeneity and geological history is fundamental to understand environmental constraints influencing biological distribution in Antarctic soil ecosystems.
We coordinated biogeographical comparisons of the impacts of an exotic invasive tree in its native and non-native ranges with a congeneric comparison in the non-native range. Prosopis juliflora is taxonomically complicated and with P. pallida forms the P. juliflora complex. Thus we sampled P. juliflora in its native Venezuela, and also located two field sites in Peru, the native range of Prosopis pallida. Canopies of Prosopis juliflora, a native of the New World but an invader in many other regions, had facilitative effects on the diversity of other species in its native Venezuela, and P. pallida had both negative and positive effects depending on the year, (overall neutral effects) in its native Peru. However, in India and Hawaii, USA, where P. juliflora is an aggressive invader, canopy effects were consistently and strongly negative on species richness. Prosopis cineraria, a native to India, had much weaker effects on species richness in India than P. juliflora. We carried out multiple congeneric comparisons between P. juliflora and P. cineraria, and found that soil from the rhizosphere of P. juliflora had higher extractable phosphorus, soluble salts and total phenolics than P. cineraria rhizosphere soils. Experimentally applied P. juliflora litter caused far greater mortality of native Indian species than litter from P. cineraria. Prosopis juliflora leaf leachate had neutral to negative effects on root growth of three common crop species of north-west India whereas P. cineraria leaf leachate had positive effects. Prosopis juliflora leaf leachate also had higher concentrations of total phenolics and L-tryptophan than P. cineraria, suggesting a potential allelopathic mechanism for the congeneric differences. Our results also suggest the possibility of regional evolutionary trajectories among competitors and that recent mixing of species from different trajectories has the potential to disrupt evolved interactions among native species.
Efforts to quantify the composition of biological communities increasingly focus on functional traits. The composition of communities in terms of traits can be summarized in several ways. Ecologists are beginning to map the geographic distribution of trait-based metrics from various sources of data, but the maps have not been tested against independent data. Using data for birds of the Western Hemisphere, we test for the first time the most commonly used method for mapping community trait composition – overlaying range maps, which assumes that the local abundance of a given species is unrelated to the traits in question – and three new methods that as well as the range maps include varying degrees of information about interspecific and geographic variation in abundance. For each method, and for four traits (body mass, generation length, migratory behaviour, diet) we calculated community-weighted mean of trait values, functional richness and functional divergence. The maps based on species ranges and limited abundance data were compared with independent data on community species composition from the American Christmas Bird Count (CBC) scheme coupled with data on traits. The correspondence with observed community composition at the CBC sites was mostly positive (62/73 correlations) but varied widely depending on the metric of community composition and method used (R2: 5.6×10−7 to 0.82, with a median of 0.12). Importantly, the commonly-used range-overlap method resulted in the best fit (21/22 correlations positive; R2: 0.004 to 0.8, with a median of 0.33). Given the paucity of data on the local abundance of species, overlaying range maps appears to be the best available method for estimating patterns of community composition, but the poor fit for some metrics suggests that local abundance data are urgently needed to allow more accurate estimates of the composition of communities.
Vegetation light use efficiency (LUE) is a key parameter of Production Efficiency Models (PEMs) for simulating gross primary production (GPP) of vegetation, from regional to global scales. Previous studies suggest that grasslands have the largest inter-site variation of LUE and controlling factors of grassland LUE differ from those of other biomes, since grasslands are usually water-limited ecosystems. Combining eddy covariance flux data with the fraction of photosynthetically active radiation absorbed by the plant canopy from MODIS, we report LUE on a typical steppe and a desert steppe in Inner Mongolia, northern China. Results show that both annual average LUE and maximum LUE were higher on the desert steppe (0.51 and 1.13 g C MJ−1) than on the typical steppe (0.34 and 0.88 g C MJ−1), despite the higher GPP of the latter. Water availability was the primary limiting factor of LUE at both sites. Evaporative fraction (EF) or the ratio of actual evapotranspiration to potential evapotranspiration (AET/PET) can explain 50–70% of seasonal LUE variations at both sites. However, the slope of linear regression between LUE and EF (or AET/PET) differed significantly between the two sites. LUE increased with the diffuse radiation ratio on the typical steppe; however, such a trend was not found for the desert steppe. Our results suggest that a biome-dependent LUEmax is inappropriate, because of the large inter-site difference of LUEmax within the biome. EF could be a promising down-regulator on grassland LUE for PEMs, but there may be a site-specific relationship between LUE and EF.