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Title: Variegated desert vegetation: Covariation of edaphic and fire variables provides a framework for understanding mulga-spinifex coexistence
Contributor(s): Nano, Catherine Elspeth Mary (author); Clarke, Peter John  (author)
Publication Date: 2008
DOI: 10.1111/j.1442-9993.2008.01855.x
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Abstract: Mulga ('Acacia aneura' Mimosaceae) and spinifex ('Triodia' spp. Poaceae) habitats together characterize a large part of arid central Australia. Often very abrupt boundaries form between these two habitats, giving rise to a mosaic pattern of contrasting shrub-grass alterations across the landscape. Reasons for such patterning remain poorly understood though current niche-based views relate species' distributions to spatial resource gradients or to fire effects. Field survey work was conducted on central Australian mountain ranges to further quantify floristic, regeneration traits, and structural patterning across mulga-spinifex transitions and to test resource- and disturbance-models that explain these patterns. Compositional analysis demonstrated variability in transition type – in certain cases boundaries denoted true floristic discontinuity and in others, somewhat more of a structural shift. Moreover, it was shown that minimal between-habitat floristic overlap coincided with the occurrence of distinct edaphic changes, while greater compositional commonality occurred when soil gradients were more diffuse. This indicated that floristic patterning cannot be ascribed to any one single process. In the case of strong soil gradients, between-habitat segregation most likely resulted from resource-based niche differentiation; for weaker gradients, fire-frequency assumed greatest importance. Disturbance theory most readily accounted for the distribution of woody species' post-fire regeneration traits across habitat boundaries. The results also suggested that biotic factors –'viz' competition, facilitation and animal-mediated dispersal – may be of additional consequence for mulga-spinifex coexistence. Overall, the study served to emphasize the importance of multi-factor explanation for within- and between-habitat patterning in these mosaics. It also highlighted the need for experimentation to facilitate distinction between cause and correlation.
Publication Type: Journal Article
Source of Publication: Austral Ecology, 33(7), p. 848-862
Publisher: Blackwell Publishing
Place of Publication: Carlton, Victoria, Australia
ISSN: 1442-9985
Field of Research (FOR): 060208 Terrestrial Ecology
Socio-Economic Objective (SEO): 960804 Farmland, Arable Cropland and Permanent Cropland Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity
Peer Reviewed: Yes
HERDC Category Description: C1 Refereed Article in a Scholarly Journal
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