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Interannual variability, stability and resilience in UK plant communities

Morecroft, Michael D.; Bealey, Clive E.; Scott, W. Andy; Taylor, Michele E.. 2016 Interannual variability, stability and resilience in UK plant communities [in special issue: Assessing ecosystem resilience through long term ecosystem research: observations from the first twenty years of the UK Environmental Change Network] Ecological Indicators, 68. 63-72. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2015.11.040

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Abstract/Summary

Plant communities are often assumed to be stable on a year-to-year basis. We present evidence that species composition in permanent quadrats changes considerably between years at a range of Environmental Change Network sites across the UK. The extent of this variability varies with habitat type. Communities associated with low disturbance levels and low agricultural inputs, particularly moorland (upland grass and heath) and bog communities, are most stable. Inter-annual variability should, therefore, be considered in designing monitoring schemes to ensure that frequency of recording is sufficient to avoid short-term fluctuations obscuring long-term trends. More diverse communities were more stable, with less species turnover between years. However, diverse communities also tended to be dominated by slow-growing, slow-reproducing plants, adapted to low nutrient conditions, identified as ‘stress tolerators’ in the Grime CSR scheme and low Ellenberg N values. Species compositional stability was more strongly correlated with these indices of plant functional types than species richness. Nevertheless, a significant effect of species richness could be identified, even after other causes of variation were accounted for. More stable communities in our study are likely to be resilient to low levels of environmental change, although they may still change, and possibly change dramatically if critical ‘tipping points’ are reached.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2015.11.040
CEH Sections/Science Areas: CEH Fellows
Pywell
ISSN: 1470-160X
Additional Keywords: vegetation, stability, diversity, functional types, inter-annual variability, monitoring
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 10 Jun 2016 10:08 +0 (UTC)
URI: http://nora.nerc.ac.uk/id/eprint/513789

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