, Volume 202, Issue 2, pp 317-326

End-of-season soil water depletion in relation to growth of herbaceous vegetation in a sub-humid Mediterranean dwarf-shrub community on two contrasting soils

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Abstract

Dwarf-shrub communities of Sarcopoterium spinosum dominate large areas of the landscape on hilly, eastern Mediterranean rangelands. Colonisation of new areas depends on the establishment of seedlings that must compete for water with the ubiquitous annual herbaceous species during the spring-winter growing season and also survive the first hot, dry summer. The present study investigated the role of the herbaceous vegetation patches growing between S. spinosum shrubs on the depletion of soil water during the critical transition period between the cool, rainy season and the dry summer. Dense and sparse herbaceous vegetation stands were established in S. spinosum dwarf-shrub communities by differential use of fertiliser on two contrasting soil types – a terra rossa overlying hard limestone where seedling establishment is low and a pale rendzina overlying a soft chalk substrate where seedling establishment is high. Soil water in the main root zone of the herbaceous vegetation between the shrubs was monitored with protected gypsum block sensors permanently placed at two depths (10 and 33 cm). Soil water depletion during the transition from the wet to the dry season was significantly more rapid under dense vegetation only on the terra rossa soil where the herbaceous vegetation also matured more rapidly than on the rendzina soil. However, in both habitats and under both dense and sparse vegetation, soil water depletion during the transition period left very little available water in the rooting zone of the herbaceous vegetation to maintain shrub seedlings throughout the summer. It was concluded that the difference in shrub seedling establishment success in the two habitats mainly reflects the differences in accessibility of water below the rooting zone of the herbaceous vegetation growing on the two contrasting soil types.