Factors influencing the distribution of Azorean mountain vegetation: implications for nature conservation
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In order to understand the main ecological factors that influence the distribution of mountain vegetation in Azores and to use it as a model for nature conservation, a study on Santa Bárbara Mountain on Terceira Island was performed. A multivariate analysis was done on vegetation data and the abiotic factors governing the vegetation pattern are discussed. The major factors contributing to the observed vegetation patterns are wind exposure, soil water saturation and historical human impacts. The vegetation analysis showed that Azorean Mountain habitats have a high variation of vegetation structure as a result of the habitat heterogeneity and the extreme ecological conditions. Using the co-dominant plants as indicator species, eco-zones are distinguished, characterized by the combination of different ecological–human factors which contribute to the distribution of specific types of natural vegetation communities. The studies of vegetation distribution give important information about the relation between vegetation and landscape that is essential for conservation, restoration proposals and landscape planning. Azores terrestrial Natura 2000 sites are largely dominated by mountain vegetation, therefore this work provides essential background data for the management plans of these sites.