, Volume 41, Issue 3, pp 171-190

Structural and floristic diversity of shrublands and woodlands in Northern Israel and other Mediterranean areas

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Between 1974 and 1978 structure and diversity of shrublands and woodlands of northern Israel were studied along climatic and human-disturbance gradients using 0.1 ha vegetation samples. Diversity increased along the moisture gradient, with highest woody and herb species richness in open Pistacia shrubland on the xeric border of the Mediterranean region, and highest equitability and lowest dominance concentration in sub-humid, moderately grazed, open oak woodlands. Semi-open disturbed shrublands were rich in herbs and had much higher structural, plant species, and animal species diversities than the closed, mature, ‘climax’ maquis. Diversity showed a two-slope response to grazing with highest species numbers in heavily (but not the most severely) grazed woodlands and shrublands. These communities have some of the highest plant alpha diversities in the world; the richness of their floras (especially in annual plants) is the product of relatively rapid evolution under stress by drought, fire, grazing, and cutting.

Comparative data on diversity and growth-form composition are compiled for mediterranean communities: Israeli' shrublands and woodlands, California chaparral and woodlands, Chilean matorral, South African fynbos, and Australian heath and mallee. Communities of three of these areas are of more recent (primarily Pleistocene) development and share some similarities; these threc form a sequence (California, Chile, and Old World Mediter-ranean) of increasing length of human disturbance and consequent species diversity. The southwest Australian heath or kwongan and the South African fynbos are, in contrast, derived from ancient Gondwanan heath like communities and are adapted to very old, nutrient-poor soils. The Gondwanan communities are quite different in growth-form structure and soil and nutrient relationships from communities of the three more recent mediterranean areas; the Gondwanan communities are almost lacking in annual species and are exceedingly rich in woody species. The richest temperate plant communities known — grazed Mediterranean pastures vs. fynbos and Australian heath — are in almost polar contrast in their growth-form structures and the bases of their species diversities.

This study, sponsored by the U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundation (No. 450), was carried out by Z. Naveh as principal investigator with R.H. Whittaker as American collaborator. We thank Mr. A. Mann, S. Burmil, Mrs. Chaim, and Mrs. A. Kleen for botanical field work and statistical computations, Mr. D. Feigin and S. Ben Ezrah for technical assistance, Mr. S. Asherow for identification of young plants, and the Nature Reserve Authorities, the Neve Yaar Experimental Station, the Agricultural School Kfar Hanoar Hadati, and Kibbutzim Allonim and Allone Abba for allowing us to use their land for this study. The work by R.H. Whittaker was supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation, Australian National University, and Canberra Botanic Gardens; and we thank all the collaborators in this work.

Nomenclature follows Zohary et al. (1948).