, Volume 6, Issue 7, pp 630-643
Date: 23 Oct 2003

Small-scale Environmental Heterogeneity and Spatiotemporal Dynamics of Seedling Establishment in a Semiarid Degraded Ecosystem

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In semiarid environments, surface soil properties play a major role in ecosystem dynamics, through their influence on processes such as runoff, infiltration, seed germination, and seedling establishment. Surface soil properties usually show a high degree of spatial heterogeneity in semiarid areas, but direct tests to evaluate the consequences of this heterogeneity on seedling establishment are limited. Using a combination of spatial analysis by distance indices (SADIE) and principal components analysis (PCA) we quantified the spatiotemporal patterns of seedling survival of a Mediterranean native shrub (Pistacia lentiscus) during the first 3 years after planting on a semiarid degraded site in southeastern Spain. We used a variation partitioning method to identify environmental variables associated with seedling survival patterns. Three years after planting, only 36% of the seedlings survived. During the first summer, one-third of the seedlings died, with secondary major mortality in the 3rd summer after planting. The spatial pattern of survival became strongly clumped by the end of the first summer, with clearly defined patches (areas of high survival) and gaps (areas of low survival). The intensity of this pattern increased after subsequent high-mortality periods. Of the 14 variables, the ones most strongly coupled to seedling survival were bare soil cover, sand content, and soil compaction. These findings contribute to our understanding of the linkages between the spatial heterogeneity of abiotic factors and the response of plant populations in semiarid degraded ecosystems and can be used to optimize restoration practices in these areas.