Comparative water relations of adjacent california shrub and grassland communities
- Cite this article as:
- Davis, S.D. & Mooney, H.A. Oecologia (1985) 66: 522. doi:10.1007/BF00379344
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Much of the coastal mountains and foothills of central and southern California are covered by a mosaic of grassland, coastal sage scrub, and evergreen sclerophyllous shrubs (chaparral). In many cases, the borders between adjacent plant communities are stable. The cause of this stability is unknown. The purpose of our study was to examine the water use patterns of representative grasses, herbs, and shrubs across a grassland/chaparrel ecotone and determine the extent to which patterns of water use contribute to ecotone stability. In addition, we examined the effects of seed dispersal and animal herbivory. We found during spring months, when water was not limited, grassland species had a much higher leaf conductance to water vapor diffusion than chaparral plants. As the summer drought progressed, grassland species depleted available soil moisture first, bare zone plants second, and chaparral third, with one chaparral species (Quercus durata) showing no evidence of water stress. Soil moisture depletion patterns with depth and time corresponded to plant water status and root depth. Rabbit herbivory was highest in the chaparral and bare zone as indicated by high densities of rabbit pellets. Dispersal of grassland seeds into the chaparral and bare zone was low. Our results support the hypothesis that grassland species deplete soil moisture in the upper soil horizon early in the drought, preventing the establishment of chaparral seedlings or bare zone herbs. Also, grassland plants are prevented from invading the chaparral because of low seed dispersability and high animal herbivory in these regions.