Basnou C.; Vicente P.; Espelta J.M. et al. 2016. “Of niche differentiation, dispersal ability and historical legacies: What drives woody community assembly in recent Mediterranean forests?” Oikos.


Community assembly rules have been extensively studied, but its association with regional environmental variation and land use history remains largely unexplored. Land use history might be especially important in Mediterranean forests, considering their historical deforestation and recent afforestation. Using forest inventories and historical (1956) and recent (2000) land cover maps, we explored the following hypotheses: 1) woody species assembly is driven by environmental factors, but also by historical landscape attributes; 2) recent forests exhibit lower woody species richness than pre‐existing due to the existence of colonization credits; 3) these credits are modulated by species’ life‐forms and dispersal mechanisms. We examined the association of forest historical type (pre‐existing versus recent) with total species richness and that of diverse life‐forms and dispersal groups, also considering the effects of current environment and past landscape factors. When accounting for these effects, no significant differences in woody species richness were found between forest historical types except for vertebrate‐dispersed species. Species richness of this group was affected by the interaction of forest historical type with distance to coast and rainfall: vertebrate‐dispersed species richness increased with rainfall and distance to the coast in recent forests, while it was higher in dryer sites in pre‐existing forests. In addition, forest historical types showed differences in woody species composition associated to diverse environmental and past landscape factors. In view of these results we can conclude that: 1) community assembly in terms of species richness is fast enough to exhaust most colonization credit in recent Mediterranean forests except for vertebrate‐dispersed species; 2) for these species, colonization credit is affected by the interplay of forest history and a set of proxies of niche and landscape constraints of species dispersal and establishment; 3) woody species assemblage is mostly shaped by the species’ ecological niches in these forests.