, Volume 241, Issue 2, pp 279-291

Spatial patterns of surface soil properties and vegetation in a Mediterranean semi-arid steppe

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Abstract

In arid and semi-arid areas with sparse vegetation cover, the spatial pattern of surface soil properties affects water and nutrient flows, and is a question of considerable interest for understanding degradation processes and establishing adequate management measures. In this study, we investigate the spatial distribution of vegetation and surface soil properties (biological crusts, physical crusts, mosses, rock fragments, earthworm casts, fine root accumulation and below-ground stones) in a semi-arid Stipa tenacissima L. steppe in SE Spain. We applied the combination of spatial analysis by distance indices (SADIE) and geostatistics to assess the spatial pattern of soil properties and vegetation, and correlation analyses to explore how these patterns were related. SADIE analysis detected significant clumped patterns in the spatial distribution of vegetation, mosses, fine root accumulation and below-ground stone content. Contoured SADIE index of clustering maps suggested the presence of patchiness in the distribution of earthworm casts, fine roots, below-ground stone content, mosses and biological crusts. Correlation analyses suggested that spatial pattern of some soil properties such as biological crusts, moss cover, surface rock fragments, physical crusts and fine roots were significantly related with above-ground plant distribution. We discuss the spatial arrangement of surface soil properties and suggest mechanistic explanations for the observed spatial patterns and relationships.