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Community Ecology
Authors: S. Bartha, G. Campetella, E. Ruprecht, A. Kun, J. Házi, A. Horváth, K. Virágh, and Zs. Molnár

Decreasing diversity and plant cover, as well as increasing variability of these characteristics with increasing aridity are expected in grasslands due to climate change. These predictions were tested in perennial sand grasslands in Hungary. Two sites were chosen in different positions on an aridity gradient and two stands in each site were monitored for 9 years. Presence of plant species were recorded along 52 m long circular belt transects of 1040 units of 5 cm × 5 cm contiguous microquadrats. This sampling procedure — a version of line-intercept methods — enabled us to monitor diversity and total abundance in a sensitive, precise and non-destructive way. We found no trend but fluctuation in most community level attributes and in species composition. Contrary to fluctuations, between-site differences in diversity did not change and diversity remained lower in the more arid site during our 9-year-study. Compositional diversity performed better than species diversity because allowed us to detect vegetation changes that would have remained hidden if monitoring would be based only on the species richness. Comparing the magnitudes of fluctuations, five times higher relative interannual variability (CV%) was found for compositional diversity at the more arid site, while the relative temporal variability of total abundance and species richness did not show consistent patterns. We conclude that a 9 year-long study was too short to identify trends caused by the changing climate. However, the larger temporal variability of species combinations found in the more arid site suggests larger vulnerability and highlights the importance of non-linear dynamics during climate changes.

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