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Possible interactions between environmental factors in determining species optima

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Questions: 1. Indicator values, such as those of Ellenberg, for different environmental factors are seen as independent. We tested for the presence of interactions between environmental factors (soil moisture and reaction) to see if this assumption is simplistic. 2. How close are Ellenberg indicator values (IVs) related to the observed optima of species response curves in an area peripheral to those where they have been previously employed and 3. Can the inclusion of bryophytes add to the utility of IVs?

Location: South Uist, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, UK.

Methods: Two grids (ca. 2000 m × 2000 m) were sampled at 50-m intervals across the transition from machair to upland communities covering an orthogonal gradient of both soil pH (reaction) and soil moisture content. Percentage cover data for vascular plants, bryophytes and lichens were recorded, along with pH and moisture content of the underlying sand/soil/ peat. Reaction optima, derived from species response curves calculated using HOF models, were compared between wet and dry sites, and moisture optima between acidic and basic samples. Optima for the whole data set were compared to Ellenberg IVs to assess their performance in this area, with and without the inclusion of bryophytes.

Results: A number of species showed substantially different pH optima at high and low soil moisture contents (18% of those tested) and different soil moisture optima at high and low pH (49%). For a number of species the IVs were poor predictors of their actual distribution across the sampled area. Bryophytes were poor at explaining local variation in the environmental factors and also their inclusion with vascular plants negatively affected the strength of relationships.

Conclusions: A substantial number of species showed an interaction between soil moisture and reaction in determining their optima on the two respective gradients. It should be borne in mind that IVs such as Ellenberg's may not be independent of one another.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2008-04-01

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