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Bryophyte diversity and distribution along an altitudinal gradient on a lava flow in La Réunion

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Non-vascular plant distribution patterns were examined in three microhabitats along an altitudinal gradient on a recent lava flow of the Piton de la Fournaise volcano (La Réunion, Mascarene archipelago). The uniform nature of the lava flow provides an excellent system to study the relationship between altitude and species diversity and distribution, and at the same time avoiding confusing multiple effects of substrate and vegetation heterogeneity. Non-vascular plants were surveyed with quadrats within an altitudinal range from 250 m to 850 m a.s.l. Fine-scale variations in bryophyte communities between three ecological microhabitats (the ground and on the rachises of two fern species) were investigated. Three specific questions were addressed: (1) What is the species diversity of bryophyte communities on a 19-year-old lava flow? (2) How does altitude influence the diversity and distribution of bryophytes on a lava flow? (3) Does microhabitat variation control bryophyte diversity? In our study, bryophyte diversity increased with altitude. Unexpectedly, species richness was very high; 70 species of bryophytes were recorded including nine new records for the island. Diversity was also controlled by ecological microhabitats. Bryophyte species were structured into six categories according to altitude and microhabitat preferences. Results suggested that the high diversity of these cryptic organisms on this lava flow is fostered in part by their host substrate and their adaptative strategies on new substrates. On a broader scale, it was concluded that lava flows as primary mineral environments are important to conserve, as they support a high diversity of pioneer organisms that constitute the early stages of the development of La Réunion's remnant lowland rainforest.

Keywords: Altitude; Piton de la Fournaise volcano; liverwort; microhabitat; moss; oceanic islands

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: School of Biological Sciences, University of Nairobi, PO Box 30197, Nairobi 00100, Kenya, 2: Faculté des Sciences et Technologies, Université de La Réunion, UMR C_53, PVBMT, 15 avenue René Cassin – BP 7151, 97715 Saint-Denis, France, 3: Département de systématique, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, UMR CNRS 5202, 57, rue Cuvier 75005 Paris, France

Publication date: 2007-09-01

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