Scale-dependence of vegetation-environment relationships in semi-natural grasslands

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Questions: Which environmental and management factors determine plant species composition in semi-natural grasslands within a local study area? Are vegetation and explanatory factors scale-dependent?

Location: Semi-natural grasslands in Lærdal, Sogn og Fjordane County, western Norway.

Methods: We recorded plant species composition and explanatory variables in six grassland sites using a hierarchically nested sampling design with three levels: plots randomly placed within blocks selected within sites. We evaluated vegetation-environment relationships at all three levels by means of DCA ordination and split-plot GLM analyses.

Results: The most important complex gradient determining variation in grassland species composition showed a broad-scale relationship with management. Soil moisture conditions were related to vegetation variation on block scale, whereas element concentrations in the soil were significantly related to variation in species composition on all spatial scales. Our results show that vegetation-environment relationships are dependent on the scale of observation. We suggest that scale-related (and therefore methodological) issues may explain the wide range of vegetation-environment relationships reported in the literature, for semi-natural grassland in particular but also for other ecosystems.

Conclusions: Interpretation of the variation in species composition of semi-natural grasslands requires consideration of the spatial scales on which important environmental variables vary.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: February 1, 2008

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