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Productivity and modifications of ecosystem processes in gaps of a low Macchia in southern Italy

Author(s): A. De Marco | A. Meola | F. Esposito | A. Virzo De Santo

Journal: Web Ecology
ISSN 2193-3081

Volume: 8;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 55;
Date: 2008;
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Disturbance in Mediterranean shrub lands creates gaps that break up the shrub cover and potentially restrict productivity and other ecosystem processes. Gaps make up to about 20% of the low Macchia area at the Castel Volturno nature reserve (southern Italy). The plant community consists mainly of small annual species (legumes, grasses and forbs) that germinate in November and die out before the onset of summer drought. The inter-annual variability in productivity and the relative abundance of legumes, grasses and forbs were assessed over 4 yr (2004–2007) to evaluate main potential modifications of ecosystem processes determined by the occurrence of gaps in the shrub cover. In the study years, at the peak production, plant mass varied from about 250 to 700 g m−2; biomass belowground allocation varied from 23% in the wettest to 44% in the driest year. Belowground/aboveground biomass ratios were negatively related to rainfall and positively related to the length of the dry period, showing that water availability controls biomass allocation patterns. Legumes were the most abundant fraction (about 60%) of the aboveground mass in the wettest year. In the drier years legumes exhibited a shorter life cycle and senesced by mid-spring. Among the three functional groups monitored, legumes were the most sensitive to water shortage and their biomass was positively related to the amount of rainfall and negatively related to the length of the dry period. The higher fraction of legume mass was associated with higher nitrogen content in plant tissues and in the soil. Senesced annual species decomposed more than senescent Phillyrea sp. leaves. The stability of organic carbon pool, evaluated through the endogenous mineralization coefficient (CEM), was lower in gaps than in understorey soils.
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