, Volume 174, Issue 2, pp 257-270

Species richness and cover along a 60-year chronosequence in old-fields of southeastern Spain

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We analyse changes in plant cover and species richness along a 60-year chronosequence in semi-arid Mediterranean old-fields of southeastern Spain. The objectives were: (i) to study patterns of species richness along the abandonment gradient in semi-arid conditions (e.g., to test the “humped-back model” in our system); (ii) to test whether different broad life forms (annuals, forbs, grasses and woody species) showed different patterns along the abandonment gradient, and (iii) to examine to what extent plants with different dispersal strategies dominate at different stages of succession. The explained variance of the regression relating species richness to years since abandonment is improved when considering different life forms. The results suggest that cover and richness of different functional groups show a non-linear unimodal (often positive-skewed) pattern along the gradient (age since abandonment). Maximum total richness is found at young stages of abandonment (<20 years), when most life forms and dispersal strategies coexist. Annuals and perennial forbs reached their maximum richness during the first 10 years of abandonment. About 45% of total woody species richness is reached at this time as a consequence of early colonization of zoochorous shrubs. While the results showed a tendency towards a life-form replacement sequence, the pattern is not so clear when looking at the different dispersal strategies. The results complement previous results in Mediterranean conditions and emphasise the importance of considering different functional types when studying successional patterns.

This revised version was published online in June 2006 with corrections to the Cover Date.