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How landscape modulators function: woody plant impact on seed dispersal and abiotic filtering

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The Mediterranean landscape is characterized by a heterogeneous structure: a mosaic of woody plants (trees or shrubs) with scattered patches of herbaceous vegetation. Although the herbaceous and woody patches are adjacent to each other, plant species composition in them is substantially different. This could be attributed to either differences in environmental conditions between patch types (i.e., abiotic filters), or to dispersal limitations caused by the woody plants acting as dispersal filters. In this article, we focus on the relative impact of woody plants, applying these two filter types, in determining plant species composition in Mediterranean woodland. We experimentally manipulated shade and litter cover and examined the effect of each of these factors on plant species composition. We used seed-traps to evaluate seed arrival in the patches, and experimentally removed the shrub canopy to study the effect of the shrub as a physical barrier to seed entry. Results showed that plant species number and composition were not significantly affected by shade and litter manipulation. The number of trapped seeds were significantly higher in the open patches than in the woody patches, and removal of woody plants increased the number of trapped seeds in both open and woody patches, as a result of eliminating the physical obstacle to free seed movement. Our findings show that woody plants affect the herbaceous plant community by influencing seed dispersal, and highlight that they affect other organisms not only by modifying resource availability but also through the creation of a new landscape structure.

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The study was supported by Grant no. 1077-03 from the Israel Science Foundation. We wish to thank the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the Rene Karschon Foundation for financial support. We also thank the Ramat Hanadiv team for technical and financial help, and Hagit Bara’m for her assistance in data analysis.

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Correspondence to O. Gabay.

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Gabay, O., Perevolotsky, A. & Shachak, M. How landscape modulators function: woody plant impact on seed dispersal and abiotic filtering. Plant Ecol 213, 685–693 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-012-0033-5

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  • Ecological filtering
  • Ecosystem engineers
  • Mediterranean ecosystem
  • Seed dispersal
  • Woody plants