Development of Spatial Heterogeneity in Vegetation and Soil Properties after Land Abandonment in a Semi-arid Ecosystem

{ "0" : "Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam, Nieuwe Achtergracht 166, 1018WV Amsterdam, The Netherlands" , "1" : "Geography Department, Catholic University of Louvain, Place Louis Pasteur 3, B-1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium" , "3" : "Abandoned fields" , "4" : "Secondary succession" , "5" : "Southeast Spain" , "6" : "Spatial metrics" , "7" : "Vegetation pattern"}
Journal of Arid Environments (Impact Factor: 1.64). 11/2008; 72:2082-2092. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaridenv.2008.06.006


To mitigate erosion on abandoned fields in semi-arid ecosystems, it is important to understand how vegetation and soil properties and patterns develop after land abandonment. Our objective was to investigate the development of spatial heterogeneity in vegetation and soil properties after land abandonment. We described the vegetation composition, collected soil samples and made detailed aerial photographs for two series of abandoned fields on marl and calcrete in Southeast Spain. The images were classified into bare and vegetated patches, and spatial metrics were calculated for each site. Our results showed that recovery of vegetation and change in soil properties after land abandonment are slow and take at least 40 years in such a semi-arid environment. Succession on calcrete appeared to be faster than on marl, probably because more water is available due to the higher rock fragment cover. Organic matter, aggregate stability and electrical conductivity were all significantly higher under vegetated patches. We found a clear linear relationship between vegetation cover and most spatial metrics, which offers the possibility of upscaling spotted vegetation patterns. The results of our integrated approach to study spatial heterogeneity in vegetation and soil properties can be used to improve predictions of runoff and erosion.

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    • "Flinn and Marks (2007) found that spatial homogenization of soil properties and altered vegetation composition remained as a legacy of former agricultural practices even after 100 years of reforestation. Lesschen et al. (2008), in semi-arid ecosystem, showed that recovery of spatial heterogeneity in vegetation and soil properties takes at least 40 years after abandonment of agriculture field. On the other hand, Banning et al. (2008) and Graham and Haynes (2004) reported the development of natural levels of variation in soil microbial properties 18 to 22 years after reclamation and attributed this to aboveground factors such as litter quality. "
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    ABSTRACT: Examining the spatial interactions between above and belowground components of terrestrial ecosystems can give meaningful insight into the ecological processes happening at different scales. Understanding spatial dependence in these processes may help to evaluate reclamation success which is crucial for future management of such areas. The aim of this study was to measure the spatial patterns of soil biogeochemical properties in a young aspen stand reclaimed after oil sands extraction and to evaluate how the patterns were related to nutrient availability. Samples were collected from a 14-year old reclaimed site using a spatially explicit protocol with a minimum resolution of 0.5 m. Field-measured variables included forest floor depth and mass, tree cluster (canopy overlap), distance to nearest tree, and resin available nutrients. Soil microbial properties including microbial biomass C and N, basal respiration, and extracellular enzyme activity were measured during an eight-week laboratory incubation experiment. Geo-statistics were applied to examine the spatial patterns and model the space effect. A fine scale (< 10 m) spatial pattern was found for the majority of stand variables, soil microbial properties, and available macronutrients (N, P, S and base cations). Macronutrients such as N, P and S availability had a fine scale cyclic spatial association with soil microbial properties, with an 8–10 m oscillation, which indicated belowground control on these nutrients. Spatial regression models also suggested a stronger microbial influence on the availability of these nutrients when compared to stand characteristics. However, stand characteristics exhibited significant control on base cations and micronutrient availability through the effect of forest floor depth and tree clustering. Although nutrient availability showed strong spatial relationships with belowground processes in the studied reclaimed site, similar relationships with aboveground properties appeared to be weak, and might require further time to develop.
    Full-text · Article · Dec 2015 · Geoderma
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    • "Conversion of arable lands into grasslands can increase vegetation cover and reduce soil erosion (Lesschen et al., 2008; Ruprecht, 2006). In this study, Medicago introduction significantly increased aboveground biomass and vegetation cover in the long term (Fig. 2a, b), which is consistent with some previous studies (Guan et al., 2013; Munson and Lauenroth, 2012). "
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    DESCRIPTION: Science of the Total Environment 541 (2016) 692–700
    Full-text · Research · Oct 2015
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    • "The natural restoration of vegetation in semi-arid environments is particularly challenging (Barberá et al., 2006; Cortina et al., 2011) because of the long time typically required to establish stable vegetation cover, particularly in highly degraded areas (Hobbs et al., 2006; Lesschen et al., 2008; Römermann et al., 2005). Thus, appropriate interventions are often used to accelerate vegetation restoration processes (Cramer et al., 2008; Török et al., 2011; Lengyel et al., 2012). "
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    ABSTRACT: The Loess Plateau of China has suffered from soil erosion for several decades. As part of the Chinese “Grain for Green” project, legume species have been introduced to restore degraded ecosystems in this region. However, information on how environmental variables influence the recovery of vegetation after legume introduction is scarce. We characterized the composition of plant communities and different environmental variables 11 years after the introduction of the legumes Medicago sativa L. and Melilotus suaveolens L. in abandoned fields of the Loess Plateau. The objectives of this research were to evaluate how environmental factors such as duration of experiment, precipitation, soil moisture, soil nutrition, and topography affect the changes in plant species composition, richness and diversity and to identify the key factors driving plant species succession. Multivariate analyses were used to evaluate the relationships between plant communities and environmental variables. These analyses showed that plant species composition varied through time, with annual species being replaced by perennial herbaceous species gradually. The introduction of Medicago and Melilotus to abandoned fields had different effects on later-successional species and changed the successional trajectory of vegetation in the abandoned fields studied. Time since restoration was the most important factor influencing the composition of vegetation. Slope position, soil moisture content, annual precipitation, and slope/aspect were also key factors driving the composition of the plant community. Our results have implications for studies of secondary succession and the topographic and climatic impacts on vegetation change in restoration ecosystems of the semi-arid Loess Plateau, and emphasize the importance of plant–topography–climate interactions in defining the structure and composition of plant communities.
    Full-text · Article · Jun 2015 · Ecological Engineering
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