, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 133-145

Establishment of woody plants in Mediterranean old fields: opportunity in space and time

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Abstract

The establishment of woody plants following agricultural abandonment in the Mediterranean region is a very widespread process which underlines the extent of the rural exodus. The installation windows in space and time were studied in the French Mediterranean region for two common woody plants, Buxus sempervirens and Fraxinus angustifolia and for a group of common woody fleshy-fruited species. These plants differ in their principal modes of dispersal which are respectively, barochory, anemochory and ornithochory. Their installation was analyzed in relation to the seed shadows, the spatial patterns and the age structures of the seedlings. The majority of the seeds were dispersed over short distances, although some animal vectors may promote a limited amount of long distance dispersal. Hence, whatever the mode of dispersal, a few seeds are often dispersed far from the maternal plant. The combination of several dispersal types in one plant species is a frequently observed feature, one being dominant at a small scale, and related to successional processes, the other being dominant at a larger scale and related to invasive processes. In the old fields the spatial pattern of seedlings closely follow the observed seed shadows. However, competition with the maternal plants may lead to, in some cases, a recruitment deficit close to the seed-bearers. Age structures show that woody plants often install very early after the abandonment of cultivation and that the installation window in time is shortened by the development of a dense herbaceous cover. It is concluded that the installation of woody plants in Mediterranean old fields cannot be reduced to a general rule. The rate and extent of installation depends mainly on the spatial distribution of the seed-bearers, therefore of the spatial patterns of the landscape.