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  • Author or Editor: F. Giannino x
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Diversity of forest trees ranges from monospecific stands to the astonishing richness of tierra firma tropical forests. Such patterns are observed along gradients of latitude, altitude, soil fertility and rainfall. So far, the proposed coexisting mechanisms do not provide a comprehensive and unequivocal explanation of these patterns at the community level. We propose a new theory linking species diversity with organic matter cycle and negative plant-soil feedback induced by litter autotoxicity. This approach focuses on resource-waste rather than resource-only dynamics. High diversity does occur where litter decomposition is rapid and ecosystem nutrient cycles are closed. On the other hand, single species dominance is found where litter decomposition is slow and/or autotoxicity is removed from the nutrient cycle pathway. Unlike previous theoretical views, the one we present proves potentially capable of explaining differences in species diversity both along environmental gradients and within the tropics.

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Community Ecology
Authors: G. Bonanomi, G. Incerti, A. Stinca, F. Cartenì, F. Giannino, and S. Mazzoleni

Ring shaped patches of clonal plants fascinated plant ecologists since long time. In this work we review the reports on the occurrence of ring pattern in different environmental conditions, the growth forms of ring-forming plants, the mechanisms underlying ring formation, and the consequences for species diversity at community scale. Rings formed by 83 species of clonal vascular plants have been found in grasslands, deserts, bare substrates of lava flow, harvested peat lands, salt marshes, and sand dunes. Four causal hypotheses have been proposed for the emergence of ring patterns: i. occurrence of architectural constraints for ramets development; ii. induction by fire, drought, trampling or overgrazing; iii. nutrient and water depletion by competition inside the ring; and iv. onset of species-specific negative plant-soil feedback in the inner zone of the clone. Since almost all the available studies are observations of ring structure or modelling exercises, none of the putative mechanisms for ring formation emerged from the literature as either generally applicable or suitable for rejection. Therefore, long-term field experiments are needed to investigate the relative prevalence of different mechanisms in different environments. Ring formation bears important consequences at community scale, because ring forming plants often act as “nurses”, enhancing the recruitment and development of different plant species. In fact, ring establishment modifies above- and below-ground environmental conditions, providing specialized safe sites for beneficiaries in the inner zone of the clones. Such interspecific facilitation by ring forming plants, particularly in chronically stressed environments, contributes to increase plant species richness and can locally promote the successional dynamics.

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Community Ecology
Authors: C. Ricotta, E. Ari, G. Bonanomi, F. Giannino, D. Heathfield, S. Mazzoleni, and J. Podani

The increasing availability of phylogenetic information facilitates the use of evolutionary methods in community ecology to reveal the importance of evolution in the species assembly process. However, while several methods have been applied to a wide range of communities across different spatial scales with the purpose of detecting non-random phylogenetic patterns, the spatial aspects of phylogenetic community structure have received far less attention. Accordingly, the question for this study is: can point pattern analysis be used for revealing the phylogenetic structure of multi-species assemblages? We introduce a new individual-centered procedure for analyzing the scale-dependent phylogenetic structure of multi-species point patterns based on digitized field data. The method uses nested circular plots with increasing radii drawn around each individual plant and calculates the mean phylogenetic distance between the focal individual and all individuals located in the circular ring delimited by two successive radii. This scale-dependent value is then averaged over all individuals of the same species and the observed mean is compared to a null expectation with permutation procedures. The method detects particular radius values at which the point pattern of a single species exhibits maximum deviation from the expectation towards either phylogenetic aggregation or segregation. Its performance is illustrated using data from a grassland community in Hungary and simulated point patterns. The proposed method can be extended to virtually any distance function for species pairs, such as functional distances.

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