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Roads as conduits of functional and phylogenetic degradation in Caatinga


Road networks cause degradation by mean of disturbances that can alter the biodiversity and the functioning of the Caatinga ecosystems. We tested the hypotheses that (i) Caatinga vegetation near roads is less taxonomically, functionally and phylogenetically diverse, (ii) phylogenetically and functionally more clustered than vegetation further from roads, (iii) plant traits associated with herbivory deterrence are conserved within the phylogenetic lineages, and (iv) Caatinga vegetation near roads selects for disturbance-related traits. We sampled herbaceous and woody component of vegetation in four plots near roads and four plots further from roads to test these hypotheses. Sampled species were classified according to their resprouting capacity, nitrogen fixation, succulence/spines, urticancy/toxicity, lifeform, endozoochory, maximum height and maximum diameter, before we calculated the taxonomic, functional and phylogenetic diversity of plant communities. Species richness, taxonomic, functional and phylogenetic diversities were lower in plots close to the roads, confirming roads as sources of disturbances. The phylogenetic structure of the Caatinga vegetation near roads was clustered, indicating environmental filtering by herbivory as the main pervasive disturbance in Caatinga ecosystems, since traits related to herbivory deterrence were conserved within phylogenetic lineages and were filtered in near roads. Thus, roads should be considered conduits of degradation causing taxonomic, phylogenetic and functional impoverishment of Caatinga vegetation.

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The authors thank the DNIT (Departamento Nacional de Infraestrutura de Transportes, process 50600.056799/2013-21), FUNARBE (process 6991), and BR235/UFV Team (process 1071/2013-DPP) for grants and financial support. The authors also thank CNPq (301913/2012-9), CAPES (PROAP), FAPEMIG (FORTIS, APQ‐01309‐16), PPGBot and PPGEco of Universidade Federal de Viçosa for providing infrastructure, grants and scholarships; Dra. Ricarda Riina (MA), Dra. Maria Iracema Bezerra Loiola (UFC), Dra. Maria Staf (PMA), Dr. Marcos Sobral (UFSJ), Dr. Luciano Paganucci de Queiroz and UEFS Herbarium for helping with plant identification; Biodiversitas Foundation, Caboclo and Marcos Vinicius Varjão Romão for fieldwork help; and Evandro Fortini for helping with the figures. JAAMN holds a productivity fellowship (307591/2016-6, 306335/2020-4).

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Correspondence to João Augusto Alves Meira-Neto.

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Mota, N.M., Gastauer, M., Carrión, J.F. et al. Roads as conduits of functional and phylogenetic degradation in Caatinga. Trop Ecol (2022).

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  • Caatinga
  • Disturbance
  • Environmental filtering
  • Phylogenetic degradation
  • Roads