, Volume 170, Issue 1, pp 83-91

Herbaceous plant richness and vegetation cover in Mediterranean grasslands and shrublands

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Abstract

Different types of relationship between herbaceous species richness and several parameters indicating abundance of plant material (herbaceous, woody plants, litter and bare ground cover) are presented. The data were obtained from 50 sites along a 300 km strip running from E to W within Spain and Portugal. Each site was representative of the silvo-pastoral landscape of the Mediterranean type ecosystems of the Iberian peninsula, and contained two neighboring patches, one of grassland and the other of shrubland. 3,600 20 × 20 cm subplots were randomly located (72 per site, 36 per patch) crossing the boundary grassland/shrubland. This approach allowed us to analyze the richness-occupation relationship of the space from different points of view: among and within the sites, and among and within the grassland and shrubland plant communities. We found a unimodal relationship between richness-cover similar to the one generally accepted between richness and biomass. Our results show that the dependence of this relationship varies depending on the spatial scale of the analysis and on the type of data used. When the whole region is taken into account, significant unimodal relationships are found between richness and herbaceous cover, litter and bare ground, and a negative linear relationship with woody plant cover. Within the sites there are mainly linear or non-significant relationships. But the results also depend on the type of communities analyzed. In pastures, the unimodal relationship represents the combination of positive and negative linear responses for low and high cover values, respectively. The value for herbaceous cover in which maximum richness occurs is around 60%. In shrublands, this value for cover also corresponds to maximum species richness, although the possibilities of reaching it are limited by other variables, such as woody plant cover. This implies that, on not considering variability at local scale, the relationship is linear and positive. This paper shows the existence of a common model related to herbaceous cover, but this model has multiple controlling factors that act differently in each type of community.