Revue : Plant Ecology

Impacts of water stress removal and disturbance regimes on Mediterranean dry grasslands diversity and succession

Auteurs :

S. Masson *, M. Gauvain, F. Mesléard, T. Dutoit

Résumé :

Our goal was to disentangle the effects of stress removal and disturbance on plant communities of a Mediterranean rangeland, La Crau (southeastern France). We compared undisturbed reference steppe vegetation with vegetation impacted by changes in land use such as earlier phases of cultivation (dating back 20 years) and/or current water infiltrations (revealed by the presence of Brachypodium phœnicoïdes), since the establishment of adjacent hay meadows. We considered plots with and without brambles (Rubus ulmifolius), an indigenous shrub species that had colonized the area after the land-use changes. We monitored the composition and measured the taxonomic richness and richness of functional groups, evenness and similarities of plant communities. The species richness of the undisturbed community was significantly higher than that of all disturbed plant communities. Although cultivation led to the dominance of ruderal species, the removal of water stress had a stronger negative impact, enabling the establishment of herbaceous competitor species such as B. phœnicoïdes. The dominance of this species resulted in a significant decline in species richness and evenness after water stress removal. The presence of brambles correlating with former cultivation and/or current water infiltration did not have a significant impact on plant species richness in the vicinity of bramble bushes, although it significantly modified the composition of the adjacent herbaceous vegetation. Our study highlights again the low resilience of Mediterranean dry grasslands after disturbance. While both the disturbance and the water stress removal resulted in changes within the plant community, our findings reveal a stronger impact of the water stress removal. Water infiltration led to decreased plant species richness and evenness because the greater availability of water favored competitor species over the stress-tolerant xeric species. Therefore, for restoring the original steppe species richness, the priority will be to control water infiltrations, even before any scrub-clearing is undertaken to control bramble colonization

* Auteur correspondant : Solène Masson

Référence bibliographique complète :

S. Masson *, M. Gauvain, F. Mesléard, T. Dutoit. Impacts of water stress removal and disturbance regimes on Mediterranean dry grasslands diversity and succession. Plant Ecology (2015). DOI : 10.1007/s11258-015-0513-5