Multiscale control of vegetation patterns: the case of Doñana (SW Spain)

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The early studies about the plant ecology of Doñana carried out at a small scale showed that the main process controlling vegetation composition of the stabilized dunes was soil water availability. However, the extrapolation of this model to larger spatial scales failed to explain observed vegetation patterns. In this work, the vegetation patterns and the processes causing them are studied at a larger scale. Data of topography, soil pH, electrical conductivity, and available iron allowed to distinguish three large geomorphologic zones on the stabilized dunes of the Doñana Biological Reserve which correspond to different dune building episodes. Different dune episodes showed differences in both water table depth and dynamics, which are due to groundwater flow systems of different scale. It is further manifested by differences in shrub composition. The results show that geomorphology controls the vegetation pattern at different scales mediated through water availability. Differences in water availability are due to the connection to groundwater flow systems of contrasted scale. On a small scale (10−,102 m), along dune slopes, there is a gradient from dune ridges to slacks, from xerophyte to hygrophyte vegetation types. On a mesoscale (102−,103 m), there are several dune episodes with variable topographic altitude, dominated by different types of xerophytes. On a regional scale (>103 m), the discharges of the regional aquifer produce strong environmental and biotic stresses resulting in a mixed community.

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