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Volume 10, issue 1
Web Ecol., 10, 1–14, 2010
© Author(s) 2010. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Web Ecol., 10, 1–14, 2010
© Author(s) 2010. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

  10 Feb 2010

10 Feb 2010

Fine-scale patterns of vegetation assembly in the monitoring of changes in coastal sand-dune landscapes

J. Honrado1, J. Vicente1, A. Lomba1, P. Alves1, J. A. Macedo1, R. Henriques2,3, H. Granja2,3, and F. B. Caldas1 J. Honrado et al.
  • 1CIBIO-Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos and Depto. de Botânica da Faculdade de Ciências, Univ. do Porto. Edifício FC4, Rua do Campo Alegre s/n, 4169007 Porto, Portugal
  • 2Depto. de Ciências da Terra, Univ. do Minho. Campus de Gualtar, 4710057 Braga, Portugal
  • 3CGUP Centro de Geologia, Univ. Porto, Rua do Campo Alegre, 4169007 Porto, Portugal

Abstract. Understanding dune ecosystem responses to multi-scale environmental changes can provide the framework for reliable forecasts and cost-efficient protocols for detecting shifts in prevailing coastal dynamics. Based on the hypothesis that stress and disturbance interact as primary community controls in coastal dunes, we studied the fine-scale floristic assembly of foredune vegetation, in its relation to topography, along regional and local environmental gradients in the 200 km long coastline of northern Portugal, encompassing a major biogeographic transition in western Europe. Thirty topographic profiles perpendicular to the shoreline were recorded at ten sites along the regional climate gradient, and vegetation was sampled by recording the frequency of plant species along those profiles. Quantitative topographic attributes of vegetated dune profiles (e.g. length or height) exhibited wide variations relatable to differences in prevailing coastal dynamics. Metrics of taxonomic diversity (e.g. total species richness and its additive beta component) and of the functional composition of vegetation were highly correlated to attributes of dune topography. Under transgressive dynamics, vegetation profiles have fewer species, increased dominance, lower turnover rates, and lower total vegetation cover. These changes may drive a decrease in structural and functional diversity, with important consequences for resistance, resilience and other ecosystem properties. Moreover, differences in both vegetation assembly (in meta-stable dunes) and response to increased disturbance (in eroding dunes) between distinct biogeographic contexts highlight a possible decline in facilitation efficiency under extreme physical stress (i.e. under Mediterranean climate) and support the significance of functional approaches in the study of local ecosystem responses to disturbance along regional gradients. Our results strongly suggest that assessing fine-scale community assembly can provide insights on the relation between dune vegetation, environmental filters and ecosystem processes. A combination of cost-efficient indicators from dune topography and vegetation is thus suggested as a promising approach to survey, forecast and monitor changes in coastal dune ecosystems.

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