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Colonisation by native species of abandoned farmland adjacent to a remnant patch of Mediterranean steppe

Buisson, E., Dutoit, T.
Plant ecology 2004 v.174 no.2 pp. 371-384
Chenopodium album, Elatine, Formicidae, Linaria, Portulaca oleracea, Salvia, Solanum nigrum, Thymus vulgaris, agricultural land, correlation, edge effects, indigenous species, plant communities, seed dispersal, seeds, vegetation, weeds
We studied plant distribution at the margins (0 - 10 m) of three formerly cultivated plots adjacent to a remnant patch of the only Mediterranean steppe of France: La Crau. We sampled above-ground vegetation, seed bank, seed rain and seed dispersal by ants in order to assess the colonisation of steppe species at margins. Our results showed that (1) present day above-ground vegetation of formerly cultivated plots is influenced more by former agricultural practices (duration of melon cultivation, fertilisation) and time since abandonment than their position in relation to the steppe. (2) An edge effect was identified as the vegetation of the steppe (e.g. Thymus vulgaris, Salvia verbenaca, Linaria arvensis) colonises the formerly cultivated plots (coefficients of similarity between vegetation on margins and steppe vegetation decreased with distance from boundaries (r = -0.65, p < 0.001)). (3) Permanent deep seed bank (10-20 cm) did not contribute to either site or edge effects and was characterised by weed species from previous melon cultivation (e.g. Chenopodium album, Kicksia elatine, Portulaca oleracea, Solanum nigrum). (4) Seed rain density decreased with distance from edges (r = -0.39, p < 0.001) and seemed positively correlated to T. vulgaris cover. (5) The number of seeds in ant-traps seemed correlated to T. vulgaris cover. We concluded that after 19 years of abandonment, only about half of the steppe species have colonised just the few meters of the margins of the formerly cultivated plots and that restoration from seed bank, seed rain or seed dispersal by ants is unlikely. Our results are thus discussed within the context of restoring the steppe plant community on formerly cultivated plots.