Early environments drive diversity and floristic composition in Mediterranean old fields: Insights from a long-term experiment

Luis Cayuela*, José María Rey Benayas, Fernando T. Maestre, Adrián Escudero

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


While many studies have explored how previous and current environmental conditions affect the performance of individual organisms, their relative importance as drivers of current diversity and composition of communities is virtually unknown. We evaluated the response of herbaceous communities to previous (experienced during early establishment) and current environmental conditions by comparing their composition and diversity in an abandoned Mediterranean cropland planted with Quercus ilex subsp. ballota L. seedlings. These seedlings received different experimental treatments (summer irrigation and artificial shading) during the first three years after planting, and were interrupted from then on. We tested two complementary hypotheses: (i) the previous environments experienced by the herbaceous communities during their establishment have a long-term carry-over effect on diversity and composition of species assemblages and (ii) these communities are influenced by their current environment, particularly by the woody layer and the soil conditions. Overall, we observed an important contribution of initial environmental conditions in determining the current diversity and composition of herbaceous communities. Amelioration of environmental conditions, particularly water stress, during community establishment resulted in a decrease in alpha and beta diversity, possibly as a consequence of decreasing environmental heterogeneity. Previous environments accounted for 26.3% of the explained variance in current community composition. Annuals, legumes and forbs also responded significantly to previous environments, which explained 27.9%, 36.2% and 30.1%, respectively, of the variance in their composition. Our results suggest that those species present at a particular site early in succession pre-empt the site and influence vegetation dynamics on that site for a long time. This study provides important insights for understanding the mechanisms underlying the ecological effects of issues like cropland reforestation and woody vegetation encroachment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)311-321
Number of pages11
JournalActa Oecologica
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 2008


  • Ecological stability
  • Initial floristic composition
  • Vegetation dynamics
  • Woody vegetation cover

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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