Diversity of Rich Fen Vegetation and Related Plant Specialists in Mountain Refugia of the Iberian Peninsula
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- Jiménez-Alfaro, B., Fernández-Pascual, E., Díaz González, T.E. et al. Folia Geobot (2012) 47: 403. doi:10.1007/s12224-012-9125-1
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In temperate mountains, fens have been reported as relict habitats subject to geographical fragmentation and broad climatic gradients, but few studies have analyzed the influence of these factors on plant diversity. Here we investigate the effect of isolation on the vegetation diversity of rich fens (Caricion davallianae) in the mountains of the Iberian Peninsula, the distribution limit of these habitats in south-western Europe. We used plot-based vegetation data from the Pyrenees and the Cantabrian mountain range to evaluate their regional species-pool, occurrence of specialists, beta-diversity and the effect of geo-climatic variables on their species-richness and species-composition. We found a lower ratio of rare specialists in the Pyrenees than in the Cantabrian range, but similar estimates in the species pools, total species-richness per plot and beta-diversity. The isolation of the two mountain regions resulted in different species assemblages best predicted by summer precipitation and bedrock types, showing region-based differences in the response of vegetation and plant specialists to the environment. The tighter correlation between local climate and diversity estimates in the Cantabrian range suggests relict character of rich fens in that region, where climatic conditions have restricted local distribution of formerly more widely distributed specialists. Although there is no relevant evidence of vegetation impoverishment in that region, historical isolation has probably resulted in the existence of fragmentary plant communities. We conclude that fen vegetation may experience long-time persistence in climatically sub-optimal mountain refugia, but related plant specialists may be sensitive to climatic changes and subject to the extinction of local populations.