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Variations in species and functional plant diversity along climatic and grazing gradients

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Different components of biodiversity may vary independently of each other along environmental gradients giving insights into the mechanisms that regulate species coexistence. In particular, the functional diversity (FD) or the presence of rare or endemic species in natural assemblages do not necessarily increase with species diversity. We studied if different components of plant species diversity (species richness, Simpson diversity, evenness) varied similarly to FD (measured as a generalization of the Simpson index) and rarity along grazing intensity and climatic gradients. Plots under different sheep grazing regimes (high and low intensity, abandonment) were surveyed in five locations along a climatic gradient in north-eastern Spain, from semi-arid lowland to moist upland locations. Variation in species diversity, functional diversity and rarity followed different patterns. Species diversity was lowest in water-stressed environments (arid locations and southern aspects) and increased with grazing more makedly in humid locations. The FD was comparable between the most species-poor and species-rich locations and decreased with grazing in the moistest location, i.e. where species diversity markedly increased. The FD did not show a strong correlation with species richness nor with the Simpson index and less specious communities could show the highest functional diversity. The rarest species in the region were more frequently found in the abandoned areas, which held the lowest species diversity. Consequently, the mechanisms that enhance the diversity of species do not necessarily support a functional differentiation among those species or the maintenance of rare species in a region. We hypothesize that the degree of dependence of functional diversity on species diversity might be mostly related to the amplitude of the species’ traits pool and on how species partition the niche space available.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2006

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