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Beyond the Forest-Grassland Dichotomy: The Gradient-Like Organization of Habitats in Forest-Steppes.


ABSTRACT: Featuring a transitional zone between closed forests and treeless steppes, forest-steppes cover vast areas, and have outstanding conservation importance. The components of this mosaic ecosystem can conveniently be classified into two basic types, forests and grasslands. However, this dichotomic classification may not fit reality as habitat organization can be much more complex. In this study, our aim was to find out if the main habitat types can be grouped into two distinct habitat categories (which would support the dichotomic description), or a different paradigm better fits this complex ecosystem. We selected six main habitats of sandy forest-steppes, and, using 176 relevés, we compared their vegetation based on species composition (NMDS ordination, number of common species of the studied habitats), relative ecological indicator values (mean indicators for temperature, soil moisture, and light availability), and functional species groups (life-form categories, geoelement types, and phytosociological preference groups). According to the species composition, we found a well-defined gradient, with the following habitat order: large forest patches, medium forest patches, small forest patches, north-facing edges, south-facing edges, and grasslands. A considerable number of species were shared among all habitats, while the number of species restricted to certain habitat types was also numerous, especially for north-facing edges. The total (i.e., pooled) number of species peaked near the middle of the gradient, in north-facing edges. The relative ecological indicator values and functional species groups showed mostly gradual changes from the large forest patches to the grasslands. Our results indicate that the widely used dichotomic categorization of forest-steppe habitats into forest and grassland patches is too simplistic, potentially resulting in a considerable loss of information. We suggest that forest-steppe vegetation better fits the gradient-based paradigm of landscape structure, which is able to reflect continuous variations.

SUBMITTER: Erdos L 

PROVIDER: S-EPMC7062704 | BioStudies | 2020-01-01

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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