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Richness, diversity, and rate of primary succession over 20 year in tropical coastal dunes

Álvarez-Molina, L. L., Martínez, M. L., Pérez-Maqueo, O., Gallego-Fernández, J. B., Flores, P.
Plant ecology 2012 v.213 no.10 pp. 1597-1608
dunes, ecological succession, ecosystems, habitats, models, shape, species diversity, vegetation cover, Gulf of Mexico
The tropical coastal dunes in central Gulf of Mexico have been stabilizing over the last decades resulting in reduced substrate mobility, and promoting primary succession. We describe changes in species richness and diversity in dune vegetation during 20 years. Our questions: (a) Do species richness and diversity increase over time as predicted by models of ecological succession or do they show a hump-backed manner similar to the observations in temperate coastal dunes?, (b) What is the interaction between vegetation cover and diversity and species richness?, (c) Is there a relationship between species diversity and succession rate and does succession rate change over time?, and (d) How do plant functional types change during succession? In order to answer these questions, we set 140 4 × 4 m permanent plots in a mobile dune area and monitored vegetation cover and species richness from 1991 to 2011. In time, diversity increased in a logistic manner toward an asymptotic value once vegetation cover surpassed 60 %. Species richness increased in a humped-back shape, also reaching a maximum peak at 60 % vegetation cover. The succession rate of diversity was measured by the Euclidean distance, and showed a significant humped-back relation, meaning that it was slower in early and late successional stages. The study supports the intermediate disturbance theory. The conservation of coastal dunes vegetation should focus on all, species-poor and species-rich habitats that help to maintain the ecological integrity of these ecosystems. The understanding of community dynamics and diversity patterns becomes an essential component of coastal dune management and conservation.