, Volume 190, Issue 1, pp 109-121
Date: 06 Aug 2006

Regional and local variation in seedling emergence, mortality and recruitment of a perennial herb in Mediterranean mountain habitats

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Spatial patterns of seedling regeneration of woody Mediterranean plants are widely documented, with seedlings and juveniles growing almost exclusively under shrub and tree canopy. Neighbourhood habitat amelioration and consequent facilitative effects on recruitment have been extensively suggested as the major determinant of such spatial pattern for Mediterranean vegetation. Much less is known on recruitment patterns of perennial herbs. As herbs differ from woody plants in many relevant ecological aspects and in their life cycles, we would expect particularities in their recruitment dynamics. We analysed the spatial (regional, local and fine-scale) variation in environment (herb cover, litter depth, air temperature and irradiance) and its relationship with seedling emergence, mortality, and recruitment of the perennial herb Helleborus foetidus (Ranunculaceae) during 2 years. We conducted the study in three distant localities in south-eastern Iberian Peninsula (defining the regional scale). Local scale was defined in terms of microhabitat type based on three categories of vegetation cover (under evergreen shrubs or trees, under deciduous spiny-shrubs, and in open interspaces). Finally, fine-scale variation was defined in terms of 1 m2 sampling plots. Our results showed regional, local and fine-scale variations in recruitment, with the major source of variation changing across scales. Seed input was important in determining differences in recruitment both at the largest (regional) and the finest scale. Environment had minor importance in shaping differences in recruitment at these two scales. At the local scale, variation between microhabitats was mainly related to differences in seedling survival through facilitative effects (alleviation of water and irradiance stresses) of shrub and tree cover, although such facilitative effect was not consistent in all localities or years. Our study thus points to a similarity in the spatial patterns of recruitment (and in the environmental factors shaping such patterns) between Mediterranean woody plants and perennial herbs, but much more effort is needed to assess the generality of such similarity.