, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 585-594

Consequences of Landscape Heterogeneity on Grassland Diversity and Productivity in the Espinal Agroforestry System of Central Chile

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Abstract

The current land use system in the anthropogenic savannas (Espinales) of the Mediterranean climate region of Chile, has resulted in considerable heterogeneity at the landscape level which is associated with different covers of the legume tree, Acacia caven. The effects of landscape heterogeneity on the diversity and productivity of herbaceous plant communities were studied in 29 plots of 1000 m2, with a wide range of woody cover. A detrended correspondence analysis of the species × plots matrix explained 73% of the total variation and revealed the existence of two trends of variation in floristic composition: one associated with physiographic position (hillsides and flatlands) and the other related to the number of years since the last cutting, or coppicing, of A. caven. Despite the great majority of the original herbaceous species having disappeared as a result of the prevailing land use system, some native species have been able to survive especially on hillside areas with low grazing intensity. Woody cover was a good indicator of spatial heterogeneity and land use history. It was also correlated with stocking rate, above-ground biomass of herbaceous vegetation, and soil fertility (organic matter, nitrogen and phosphorus concentration), both on hillsides and flatlands. The relationship between woody cover and herbaceous plant species richness was significant and unimodal in flat land areas, and linear, and marginally significant, on hillsides. The consequences of land use changes on the conservation of the ecological and productive values of grasslands are analyzed.