Biodiversity & Conservation

, Volume 14, Issue 6, pp 1453–1468 | Cite as

Fractal analysis of plant spatial patterns: a monitoring tool for vegetation transition shifts

  • C. L. AladosEmail author
  • Y. Pueyo
  • D. Navas
  • B. Cabezudo
  • A. Gonzalez
  • D. C. Freeman


Spatial heterogeneity, like species diversity, is an important ecosystem property. We examine the effects of land use on the diversity and spatial distribution of plants in five semi-arid communities of eastern Spain using non-linear methods to assess the spatialtemporal dynamics of plant populations. Specifically, we are interested in detecting long-term structural changes or drift in an ecosystem before it is too late to prevent irreversible degradation. Fractal analysis is used to characterize the complexity of plant spatial patterns and Information Theory indices are used to measure change in information flow with land use changes and soil substrate. We found that grazing favored diversity and heterogeneity of species distribution on the impoverished gypsum and saline substrate community, as opposed to the detrimental effect of grazing in the Alpha steppe community. Indeed, old-field succession after 30 years of abandonment showed a recovery of species diversity but not the spatial structure of the vegetation. Further, Information Fractal Dimension, representing the unpredictability of plant spatial patterns in the landscape, increased as we moved from a highly diverse to a less diverse community, revealing the change to a more scattered and homogeneous spatial plant distribution. The Information Fractal Dimension is a good estimator of ecosystem disturbance, independent of scale, and thus can be used to monitor ecosystem dynamics.


Diversity Fractal dimension Land use change Spatial patterns 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. L. Alados
    • 1
    Email author
  • Y. Pueyo
    • 1
  • D. Navas
    • 2
  • B. Cabezudo
    • 2
  • A. Gonzalez
    • 3
  • D. C. Freeman
    • 4
  1. 1.Instituto Pirenaico de EcologíaZaragozaSpain
  2. 2.Dpt. Biología VegetalUniversidad de MálagaMálagaSpain
  3. 3.PROTECMAGranadaSpain
  4. 4.Department of Biological SciencesWayne State UniversityDetroitUSA

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