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Free Content Small-scale diversity of plant communities and distribution of species niches on a copper rock outcrop in Upper Katanga, D.R.Congo

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Background and aims – In Katanga (D. R. Congo), outcrops of bedrocks naturally enriched in Cu and Co ("copper hills"), host unique plant communities. The spatial variation of vegetation has long been attributed almost exclusively to variation in Cu concentration in the soil, but this assumption has not been experimentally tested. We analysed the variation in plant communities and the niches of selected species in relation to edaphic factors within a copper hill.

Methods – Forty-eight 1 m2 plots were sampled for plant community and soil mineral element composition, and classified with Unweighted Pair Group Method with Arithmetic mean (UPGMA) using the Bray-Curtis distance. Plant-edaphic relationships were examined using a Canonical Correspondence Analysis (CCA). Species niches were modelled with Generalized Additive Model (GAM). Mean edaphic factors between the soil of plant communities were compared with one-way Kruskal-Wallis non-parametric ANOVA.

Key results – The diversity of communities at the site scale was higher than observed in previous studies at a larger scale. Cu was the most discriminating edaphic factor of plant communities. However, detailed comparisons of mean edaphic factors among communities revealed individual combinations of edaphic parameters for each community, as well as differences in soil Cu content. High covariation appears to be an essential trait of the edaphic factor variation of Katangan Cu-rich soils. This makes it difficult to examine separately the effect of these factors on plant community structures. A bimodal pattern of niche distribution was found for Cu and pH. For physical parameters, niche optima were normally distributed.

Conclusions – Global variation in edaphic factors associated with variation in combinations of edaphic parameters generates a highly heterogeneous environment favourable to a high diversity of plant communities over limited areas. Conservation strategies or restoration actions to limit the impact of mining activities on Cu-enriched ecosystems should pay special attention to recreate heterogeneity, taking into account the covariation of edaphic factors.
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Document Type: Regular Paper

Publication date: July 1, 2013

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