Role of host identity in effects of phytogenic mounds on plant assemblages and species richness on coastal arid dunes

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Abstract:

Question: Phytogenic mounds (nebkhas) – the natural accumulation of wind-blown sediments within or around the canopies of plants – have been proposed as important structures for locally maintaining high species richness in coastal and arid ecosystems. Nebkhas are assumed to increase habitat heterogeneity, but what is the importance of the nebkha host species relative to other nebkha characteristics in determining the associated plant assemblages? Are some host species more effective in creating diversity hotspots, or does a single species-area relationship apply to all nebkhas, regardless of host species? Can the influence of the host be ascribed to its indirect effects on abiotic attributes of the nebkha complex?

Methods and location: We investigated plant species richness and composition on nebkhas around six psammophytic species on Mediterranean coastal dunes of the Sinai Peninsula.

Results: Plant species richness was signifi cantly related to nebkha size by the single power function according to the general prediction of island biogeography theory, but this relationship was modified – though to a limited degree – by nebkha host species identity. Canonical Correspondence Analysis revealed that nebkha host species identity and nebkha environmental and non-environmental factors significantly explained species composition on the nebkhas, but host species identity did so to a greater extent. The latter might reflect differences in seed trapping ability or free space for colonization between host species.

Conclusion: Differences in community composition and richness among nebkhas formed by different host species represent a key factor in the maintenance of plant diversity on arid coastal dunes.

Keywords: ARID ECOSYSTEM; FACILITATION; ISLAND BIOGEOGRAPHY; NEBKHA; PHYTOGENIC HILLOCK; PSAMMOPHYTIC SPECIES; SINAI PENINSULA

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2007

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