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What determines emergence and net recruitment in an early succession plant community? Disentangling biotic and abiotic effects

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Question: How do different regeneration scenarios shape species composition at two stages of plant community establishment (emergence and net recruitment) in an early succession?

Location: Northern Spain.

Methods: In a recently ploughed field, we created eight regeneration scenarios with light, water and nitrogen availability (five replicates each). Seedlings of all species were monitored from emergence to death during one year. Abiotic and biotic variables were measured per quadrat, i.e. soil texture, nutrient contents, seed bank densities and composition, neighbour plant species densitiy and cover. We used partial ordination methods in order to separate the effect of each environmental variable on species composition during emergence and adult net recruitment.

Results: Light treatment determined annual plant density at time of emergence and recruitment, while water addition controlled the recruitment of perennials. Resource levels explained the emerged species composition; this effect was not translated into the recruited species composition. N-addition and N + water addition were strongly associated to species abundances at the time of emergence. Seedling composition in summer was correlated with seed abundance of Cerastium spp. Neighbour species density and cover (mainly Arrhenatherum bulbosum, Agropyron repens and Picris echioides) explained significant fractions of species composition in the emergence and recruitment of the different cohorts. Interactions between species seem to vary in intensity among cohorts and in the key plant species that determined species abundance along succession.

Conclusions: Our scenarios exerted contrasting and multilevel effects on the development of our early succession community. Resource availability differently affected plant density and species composition at different life stages. It is relevant to consider different life stages in plant community studies. However, regeneration conditions and other abiotic factors are not enough to explain how community composition varies.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2008-08-01

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