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Linking population density and habitat structure to ecophysiological responses in semiarid Spanish steppes

Abstract

We have studied the underlying factors responsible for the heterogeneous ecophysiological status of a semiarid Stipa tenacissima L. steppe in a subcatchment of SE Spain by assessing population composition and habitat structure of S. tenacissima stands. To do this, we measured and estimated 18 variables (11 biotic and seven abiotic) in 15 plots randomly distributed in the subcatchment, and then zoned this area by plot affinity using PCA. This analysis produced three sectors determined mainly by S. tenacissima cover and soil depth variables. The linear relationship fitted between S. tenacissima tussock biomass and tussock density in monospecific stands (both logarithmic) indicated a curve close to −1, suggesting that the system is close to the maximum constant yield state. Ecophysiological measurements (gas exchange, fluorescence and individual leaf area index) were taken in two periods with different water availability in a representative plot in each sector. The intraspecific competition (inferred from the density dependence of green biomass) and rock outcrops were the main factors influencing the ecophysiological status in the study area. While, in the wet season, intraspecific competition regulated water consumption in zones where S. tenacissima tussocks (monospecific stands) are dominant, during the dry season, stands in zones with extensive rock outcrops and stone cover (tussocks in “soil pockets”) had no access to non-rainfall water gains because of the adjacent bare soil, and so in these stands, gas exchange was lower and photoinhibition higher. This article stresses the importance of considering the connection between tussocks and bare-ground interspace in the functional and structural analysis of semiarid steppes.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Adela Blasco for her assistance with ecophysiological assessments and Dr. Juan R. Sánchez for his assistance with the field work. We also thank Dr. Francisco Domingo for his valuable comments on a draft of this manuscript and José Carlos Cristóbal for plant sample analyses. Financial support was provided by the “Efecto de la cubierta vegetal en el balance hídrico y en la disponibilidad y calidad del agua, propuesta para aumentar la recarga de acuíferos” Project, funded by the CICYT (REN2000-0529HID, CGL2004-03627) and by “AQUADAPT: Energy, Environment and Sustainable Development” Project founded by the European Community (EVK1-2001-00149).

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Correspondence to David A. Ramírez.

 

 

Appendix 1 List of species sampled in the 15 plots assessed

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Ramírez, D.A., Bellot, J. Linking population density and habitat structure to ecophysiological responses in semiarid Spanish steppes. Plant Ecol 200, 191–204 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-008-9444-8

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-008-9444-8

Keywords

  • Biomass-density relationship
  • Intraspecific competition
  • Self-thinning
  • Stipa tenacissima
  • Soil connectivity