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  • Volume 6 Issue 2
    Yaks grazing on an alpine meadow in Baima Snow Mountain in northwest Yunnan, China. Located in the Three Parallel Rivers World Heritage Site, the alpine meadows provide summer pastures for Tibetan yak herders and a source of important medicinal and horticultural plants. Increases in unpalatable shrubs are resulting in shrinking grasslands, reducing dairy outputs, and adversely affecting yak health. Photo and research on the impacts of grazing on alpine meadow plant biodiversity was conducted by Michelle A. Haynes et al.
    Research Articles
    Lior Blank, Raphael Linker, Yohay Carmel
    2013, 6 (2): 113-121.
    Abstract ( 48 )   PDF   Save
    Aims Studies of species distribution patterns traditionally have been conducted at a single scale, often overlooking species–environment relationships operating at finer or coarser scales. Testing diversity-related hypotheses at multiple scales requires a robust sampling design that is nested across scales. Our chief motivation in this study was to quantify the contributions of different predictors of herbaceous species richness at a range of local scales.
    Methods Here, we develop a hierarchically nested sampling design that is balanced across scales, in order to study the role of several environmental factors in determining herbaceous species distribution at various scales simultaneously. We focus on the impact of woody vegetation, a relatively unexplored factor, as well as that of soil and topography. Light detection and ranging (LiDAR) imaging enabled precise characterization of the 3D structure of the woody vegetation, while acoustic spectrophotometry allowed a particularly high-resolution mapping of soil CaCO 3 and organic matter contents.
    Important findings We found that woody vegetation was the dominant explanatory variable at all three scales (10, 100 and 1000 m 2), accounting for more than 60% of the total explained variance. In addition, we found that the species richness–environment relationship was scale dependent. Many studies that explicitly address the issue of scale do so by comparing local and regional scales. Our results show that efforts to conserve plant communities should take into account scale dependence when analyzing species richness–environment relationships, even at much finer resolutions than local vs. regional. In addition, conserving heterogeneity in woody vegetation structure at multiple scales is a key to conserving diverse herbaceous communities.
    Michelle A. Haynes, Zhendong Fang, Donald M. Waller
    2013, 6 (2): 122-130.
    Abstract ( 62 )   PDF   Save
    Aims The eastern Himalayan region of Southwest China represents the world's most biodiverse temperate region as well as a cultural hotspot undergoing rapid cultural and ecological change. This area represents the center of origin for many plant groups including horticulturally valuable species of Pedicularis, Rhododendron and Primula. Alpine meadows here also provide summer pastures for Tibetan yak herders and the source for important medicinal plants. Stocking levels for livestock here have quadrupled over the last five decades and shrubs are encroaching into many historical rangelands. Yak herders voice concerns over both shrub encroachment and shrinking grasslands. In this study, we sought to determine: (i) Are alpine rangelands in Deqin County overgrazed and degraded? (ii) What are the local impacts of grazing on plant diversity and community composition? And (iii) which environmental variables covary with these differences in species composition across the grazing gradient?
    Methods To examine the ecological impacts of grazing in Deqin County, northwest Yunnan and assess its long-term sustainability, we used county records to determine historical population and livestock numbers, confirmed the results of interviews by Haynes (2011) and surveyed plant species richness and cover along a grazing gradient extending away from herder huts. Along these transects, we sampled 1?m 2 quadrats at 5 m intervals, noting species present and percent cover for vascular plants, grasses, sedges, rushes, moss, lichen, exposed rock, bare ground and feces. We also measured the average and maximum plant height within each quadrat. We then computed species richness for each of the 38 transects, calculating alpha and beta diversities. We used one-way ANOVAs to compare mean species richness values and average and maximum plant height across grazing intensities. To chart changes in composition along the 100m gradient, we also plotted the percent cover of graminoid, forb, shrub and bare ground versus distance from the hut. We applied NMS ordination to relate community patterns to environmental variables and grazing intensity using distances to determine species groupings.
    Important findings Livestock impacts are clearly evident with proportions of grass and bare ground decreasing, shrubs increasing and forbs maintaining even cover with increasing distance from the huts. In comparison with earlier surveys of sites farther from huts, we found reduced plant cover and diversity. Plant species richness almost doubles with increasing distance from herder huts from 9.9 to 19.3 species per 1 m 2 quadrat. An ordination of species and environmental variables demonstrates that grazing strongly affects plant community com position across these plots with strong impacts on palatable plants. If herd sizes remain large and suitable areas for grazing continue to decline, the cumulative impacts of grazing appear likely to degrade the rich diversity of the region and reduce rangeland quality, threatening its ability to sustain current grazing levels.
    Zhonghua Zhang, Gang Hu, Jiedong Zhu, Jian Ni
    2013, 6 (2): 131-140.
    Abstract ( 69 )   PDF   Save
    Aims Spatial distribution patterns of species reflect not only the ecological processes but also the habitat features that are related to species distribution. In karst topography, species distribution patterns provide more specific information about their environments. The objectives of this study are as follows: (i) to analyse and explain the spatial distribution patterns of conspecific trees in an old-growth subtropical karst forest; (ii) to investigate pattern changes at different spatial scales; (iii) to test the spatial pattern similarity (or dissimilarity) between trees at different abundances, diameter at breast height classes, canopy layers and different functional groups (shade tolerance and seed dispersal mode); (iv) to examine whether habitat heterogeneity has an important effect on the species spatial distribution.
    Methods The spatial distributions of woody species with ≥20 individuals in a 1-ha subtropical karst forest plot at Maolan in southwestern China were quantified using the relative neighbourhood density Ω based on the average density of conspecific species in a circular neighbourhood around each species.
    Important findings Aggregated distribution is the dominant pattern in the karst forest, but the ratio of aggregated species in total species number decreases with an increase in spatial scale. Less abundant species are more aggregated than most abundant species. Aggregation is weaker in larger diameter classes, which is consistent with the prediction of self-thinning. Seed dispersal mode influences spatial patterns, with species dispersed by animals being less aggregated than those dispersed by wind and gravity. Other species functional traits (e.g. shade tolerance) also influence the species spatial distributions. Moreover, differences among species habitat associations, e.g. with rocky outcrops, play a significant role in species spatial distributions. These results indicate that habitat heterogeneity, seed dispersal limitation and self-thinning primarily contribute to the species spatial distributions in this subtropical karst forest.
    Sara Kuebbing, Mariano A. Rodriguez-Cabal, David Fowler, Lauren Breza, Jennifer A. Schweitzer, Joseph K. Bailey
    2013, 6 (2): 141-149.
    Abstract ( 52 )   PDF   Save
    Aims In this study, we examine two common invasion biology hypotheses—biotic resistance and fluctuating resource availability—to explain the patterns of invasion of an invasive grass, Microstegium vimineum.
    Methods We used 13-year-old deer exclosures in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, USA, to examine how chronic disturbance by deer browsing affects available resources, plant diversity, and invasion in an understory plant community. Using two replicate 1 m 2 plots in each deer browsed and unbrowsed area, we recorded each plant species present, the abundance per species, and the fractional percent cover of vegetation by the cover classes: herbaceous, woody, and graminoid. For each sample plot, we also estimated overstory canopy cover, soil moisture, total soil carbon and nitrogen, and soil pH as a measure of abiotic differences between plots.
    Important findings We found that plant community composition between chronically browsed and unbrowsed plots differed markedly. Plant diversity was 40% lower in browsed than in unbrowsed plots. At our sites, diversity explained 48% and woody plant cover 35% of the variation in M. vimineum abundance. In addition, we found 3.3 times less M. vimineum in the unbrowsed plots due to higher woody plant cover and plant diversity than in the browsed plots. A parsimonious explanation of these results indicate that disturbances such as herbivory may elicit multiple conditions, namely releasing available resources such as open space, light, and decreasing plant diversity, which may facilitate the proliferation of an invasive species. Finally, by testing two different hypotheses, this study addresses more recent calls to incorporate multiple hypotheses into research attempting to explain plant invasion.
    Samantha Erwin, Aron Huckaba, Kate S. He, Maeve McCarthy
    2013, 6 (2): 150-157.
    Abstract ( 41 )   PDF   Save
    Aims Alligatorweed (Alternanthera philoxeroides (Mart.) Griseb.) is an invasive species indigenous to South America. With its rapid invasion of southeastern US waterways, understanding the invasiveness of this plant species is critical for providing possible mechanisms of prevention for resource managers. The aim of this project is to use a matrix model to study the invasion dynamics of alligatorweed under both terrestrial and aquatic environments. The use of this model allows for a deeper understanding of the invasiveness and life history–stage structure of alligatorweed. In particular, matrix analysis can further test the hypothesis that certain life stages of alligatorweed might be more sensitive to control and management.
    Methods A greenhouse experiment was conducted to study the spread of alligatorweed under both aquatic and terrestrial environments. Utilizing the growth data obtained during the summer of 2010, matrix analysis was used to model the growth of alligatorweed for six different treatments. Transition matrices were generated based on plant measurements taken at different life stages defined by the number of leaves or nodes. These matrices are population projection models whose eigenvalues represent the growth rate of alligatorweed. A high growth rate is a key feature of successful invaders. Residuals were calculated and sensitivity analysis was performed to test the accuracy of the model and importance of each life stage over the entire life cycle of alligatorweed.
    Important findings The results of this study indicate that in the aquatic habitat, plants at their early life cycle stage are most sensitive to potential control measures. Conversely, in the terrestrial habitat, the most sensitive stage of alligatorweed is at its late life cycle stage, characterized with large-sized plants, thus suggesting the best timing for management and eradication of this invasive species.
    R. K. Chaturvedi, A. S. Raghubanshi, J. S. Singh
    2013, 6 (2): 158-170.
    Abstract ( 56 )   PDF   Save
    "AimsThe growth of plant species in tropical dry forest (TDF) is expected to be largely governed by the availability of soil moisture. In this study we attempt to identify mechanisms by which seedlings of dry tropical trees cope with water stress by adjusting their leaf characteristics to water availability and micro environments, and address following questions: How are leaf traits and relative growth rate (RGR) of the dominant seedling species of TDF affected by seasonal changes in soil moisture content (SMC)? What is the relationship of functional traits with each other? Can leaf traits singly or in combination predict the growth rate of seedling species of TDF? The study was conducted in situ on four sites (viz., Hathinala, Gaighat, Harnakachar and Ranitali, listed in order of decreasing SMC) within the tropical dry deciduous forest in northern India.
    Methods Five leaf traits viz., specific leaf area (SLA), leaf dry matter content (LDMC), concentrations of leaf nitrogen (leaf N), phosphorus (leaf P) and chlorophyll (Chl) and two physiological processes, viz., stomatal conductance (Gs net) and photosynthetic rate (A net), and RGR, of four dominant tree seedling species of a TDF (viz., Buchanania lanzan, Diospyros melanoxylon, Shorea robusta and Terminalia tomentosa) on four sites were analysed for species, site and season effects over a 2-year period. Step-wise multiple regression was performed to predict RGR from mean values of SMC, leaf traits and physiological processes. Principal component analysis (PCA) was performed to observe the extent of intra- vs. inter-specific variability in the leaf traits and physiological rates.
    Important findings All the traits and physiological rates were interrelated and showed significant positive relationship with RGR except for the correlation of LDMC with RGR which was not significant. Further, relationships of SMC with all leaf traits, physiological rates and RGR were significant, except for that between SMC and SLA for B. lanzan and D. melanoxylon. The slope of seedling trait:SMC relationship, a measure of phenotypic plasticity in response to soil moisture gradient, varied among species. Among the four species, T. tomentosa was the most plastic and S. robusta the least. In conclusion, leaf traits and physiological processes were strongly related to soil water availability on the one hand and seedling growth on the other. Gs net is the most important variable which accounted for the greatest amount of variability (62%) in RGR, emphasizing the role of stomatal conductance in shaping growth patterns across spatial and temporal gradients of soil water availability. Gs net and SMC together explained 64% variability in RGR, indicating that other traits/factors, not studied by us are also important in modulating the growth of tropical tree seedlings.
    Nicholas A. Barber
    2013, 6 (2): 171-176.
    Abstract ( 47 )   PDF   Save
    Aims Although ecological interactions are often conceptualized and studied in a pairwise framework, ecologists recognize that the outcomes of these interactions are influenced by other members of the community. Interactions (i) between plants and insect herbivores and (ii) between plants and mycorrhizal fungi are ubiquitous in terrestrial ecosystems and may be linked via common host plants. Previous studies suggest that colonization by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) can modify plants' induced responses to herbivore attack, but these indirect effects of fungal symbionts are poorly understood. I investigated the role of AMF in induced plant response to a generalist herbivore.
    Methods I manipulated AMF status and herbivory in Cucumis sativus L. (cucumber, Cucurbitaceae) in a greenhouse to investigate induced responses in the presence and absence of the mycorrhizal fungus Glomus intraradices (Glomeraceae). Spodoptera exigua Hübner (Noctuidae) were used to manipulate prior damage and later as assay caterpillars. I also measured G. intraradices and herbivory effects on plant N and effects on plant growth.
    Important findings AMF status affected the induced response of C. sativus, underscoring the importance of incorporating the roles of plant symbionts into plant defense theory. Assay caterpillars ate significantly more leaf tissue only on mycorrhizal plants that had experienced prior damage. Despite more consumption, biomass change in these caterpillars did not differ from those feeding on plants with other treatment combinations. Leaf N content was reduced by G. intraradices but unaffected by herbivory treatments, suggesting that the observed differences in assay caterpillar feeding were due to changes in defensive chemistry that depended on AMF.
    Monica Boscaiu, Cristina Lull, Josep Llinares, Oscar Vicente, Herminio Boira
    2013, 6 (2): 177-186.
    Abstract ( 86 )   PDF   Save
    Aims Osmolytes, used for maintaining osmotic balance and as 'osmoprotectants', are synthesized in plants as a general, conserved response to abiotic stress, although their contribution to stress-tolerance mechanisms remains unclear. Proline, the most common osmolyte, accumulates in many plant species in parallel with increased external salinity and is considered a reliable biochemical marker of salt stress. We have measured proline levels in two halophytic, closely related Juncus species under laboratory and field conditions to assess the possible relevance of proline biosynthesis for salt tolerance and therefore for the ecology of these two taxa.
    Methods Proline was quantified in plants treated with increasing NaCl concentrations and in plants sampled in two salt marshes located in the provinces of Valencia and Alicante, respectively, in southeast Spain. Electrical conductivity, pH, Na + and Cl ? concentrations were measured in soil samples collected in parallel with the plant material.
    Important findings Treatment with NaCl inhibited growth of J. acutus plants in a concentration-dependent manner, but only under high salt conditions for J. maritimus. Salt treatments led to proline accumulation in both species, especially in the more salt-tolerant J. maritimus. The results, obtained under laboratory conditions, were confirmed in plants sampled in the field. In all the samplings, proline contents were significantly lower in J. acutus than in the more tolerant J. maritimus growing in the same area. No direct correlation between soil salinity and proline levels could be established, but seasonal variations were detected, with increased proline contents under accentuated water deficit conditions. Our results suggest that proline biosynthesis is not only an induced, general response to salt stress but also an important contributing factor in the physiological mechanisms of salt tolerance in Juncus, and that it therefore correlates with the ecology of both species.
    Zhiyuan He, Yong Tang, Xiaobao Deng,, Min Cao
    2013, 6 (2): 187-192.
    Abstract ( 67 )   PDF   Save
    Aims Buttresses are prevalent and are important to many ecological processes in tropical rainforests but are overlooked in many rainforest studies. Based on a buttress survey in a 20-hectare plot, this study aims to answer the following questions: (I) Is buttress forming a fixed species characteristic? (ii) Is there any phylogenetic signal for buttress forming across a broad taxonomic scale? (iii) Is buttress forming an inherent feature or simply induced by environmental factors, and how is this relevant to the size of the tree?
    Methods We surveyed buttresses for all 95940 trees with diameter at breast height (DBH) ≥10mm in a 20-ha tropical dipterocarp rainforest in Xishuangbanna, SW China. The occurrence of buttresses was compared across different taxa and across different tree-size classes. A phylogenetic analysis was conducted among buttressed and non-buttressed species in order to understand the evolutionary background of buttress formation.
    Important findings This preliminary study showed that buttress trees are very abundant (making up 32% of trees with ≥100mm DBH) in this 20-ha tropical rainforest situated at the northern edge of the tropics. Fifty-one percent of the 468 tree species in the plot had stems that produced buttresses. Large trees were more likely to develop buttresses than smaller ones. We found that although buttress formation is not a fixed species characteristic, there is a strong phylogenetic signal for buttress formation in larger species.
Impact Factor
5 year Impact Factor
Wen-Hao Zhang
Bernhard Schmid