Study links plant resilience to drought with demographic and functional characteristics

The combination of extreme weather conditions and their consequences on the scrub are the start of the study led by Maria Paniw. Image: Francisco Lloret.
The combination of extreme weather conditions and their consequences on the scrub are the start of the study led by Maria Paniw. Image: Francisco Lloret.

A severe episode of drought in Doñana National Park (Spain), coinciding with a harsh winter, marked the beginning of a research study led by ecologist Maria Paniw, co-authored by CREAF researcher Francisco Lloret and fellow researcher Enrique de la Riva.

The combination of such extreme weather conditions led to the death of the monte blanco, the main type of shrublands in the Park, and motivated the ecologist’s curiosity to find out why some plant species recovered more quickly. The result is the scientific study Demographic traits improve predictions of spatiotemporal changes in community resilience to drought, published in the Journal of Ecology, which shows that the demographic and functional characteristics of the species of the Doñana shrublands explain the resilience and the different response to drastic climatic episodes of this plant formation.

Resilience in plants

The resilience of plant species provides information on the threat of extreme weather events, as it informs on the degree to which affected communities can reach previous states. However, the mechanics of the processes underlying resilience are often not understood and various measures of resilience need to be linked to demographic responses within natural communities.

In the data mining of this research we worked with information collected over 13 years on a typical Mediterranean shrub and scrub community. We assessed whether demographic traits such as longevity and reproductive efficiency are predictive of changes in plant resilience. The relevance of these demographic traits was compared with other commonly used functional traits such as leaf area or root dry matter content.

Some of the conclusions reached suggest that, in general, demographic traits are better at predicting resilience in terms of community vegetation cover, while functional traits tend to better explain the resilience of species composition. However, resilience measures show non-linear responses and are highly dependent on initial drought severity.

Reference article:

Demographic traits improve predictions of spatiotemporal changes in community resilience to drought.  Maria Paniw, Enrique G. de la Riva, Francisco Lloret.
https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2745.13597

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