Plant species richness and diversity of the serpentine areas on the Witwatersrand
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- Reddy, R.A., Balkwill, K. & McLellan, T. Plant Ecol (2009) 201: 365. doi:10.1007/s11258-008-9455-5
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Soil chemistry can play an important role in determining plant diversity. Serpentine soils are usually toxic to many plant taxa, which limits plant diversity compared to that on adjacent non-serpentine soils. The usually high concentrations of toxic metals in serpentine soils are considered to be the edaphic factors that cause low diversity and high endemism. This paper aimed primarily to determine whether there is a relationship between serpentine soil chemistry and species richness on the Witwatersrand and to compare species richness of the serpentine areas with that of adjacent non-serpentine areas as well as with the species richness of the serpentine areas in the Barberton Greenstone Belt. The alpha- and beta-diversity of the Witwatersrand serpentine and non-serpentine areas was also investigated. A secondary aim of this study was to determine which of the non-serpentine taxa were more common on the serpentine than off the serpentine, which taxa were more common off the serpentine than on the serpentine and which taxa were equally common on and off serpentine soils. There was no significant difference in alpha-diversity between the serpentine and the adjacent non-serpentine areas, but beta-diversity is higher between serpentine plots than between non-serpentine plots. Although soil factors do affect species richness and diversity of plants on the Witwatersrand to a limited extent, the concentrations of soil chemicals in serpentine soils are not sufficiently different from those in non-serpentine soils to significantly influence the species richness and diversity of the serpentine soils. The high, but similar, diversity on serpentine and non-serpentine soils on the Witwatersrand indicates that soil factors do not play a significant role in determining diversity on potentially toxic soils in the area.