Ecological Diversity within Rear-Edge: A Case Study from Mediterranean Quercus pyrenaica Willd.


Understanding the ecology of populations located in the rear edge of their distribution is key to assessing the response of the species to changing environmental conditions. Here, we focus on rear-edge populations of Quercus pyrenaica in Sierra Nevada (southern Iberian Peninsula) to analyze their ecological and floristic diversity. We perform multivariate analyses using high-resolution environmental information and forest inventories to determine how environmental variables differ among oak populations, and to identify population groups based on environmental and floristic composition. We find that water availability is a key variable in explaining the distribution of Q. pyrenaica and the floristic diversity of their accompanying communities within its rear edge. Three cluster of oak populations were identified based on environmental variables. We found differences among these clusters regarding plant diversity, but not for forest attributes. A remarkable match between the populations clustering derived from analysis of environmental variables and the ordination of the populations according to species composition was found. The diversity of ecological behaviors for Q. pyrenaica populations in this rear edge are consistent with the high genetic diversity shown by populations of this oak in the Sierra Nevada. The identification of differences between oak populations within the rear-edge with respect to environmental variables can aid with planning the forest management and restoration actions, particularly considering the importance of some environmental factors in key ecological aspects.

Blas M. Benito
Blas M. Benito
Staff Researcher