Congruencies between photoautotrophic groups in springs of the Italian Alps: implications for conservation strategies
AbstractEven though a number of studies have demonstrated the importance of photoautotrophic organisms in spring habitats, investigations that consider several photoautotrophic taxonomic groups are lacking. Within the framework of a multidisciplinary project on springs of the south-eastern Alps, we studied algae, diatoms, lichens, and bryophytes and (1) compared the alpha, beta and gamma diversity, and the composition of the studied groups between carbonate and siliceous springs, (2) estimated the nonrandomness of species combinations within organismal groups, and (3) examined the congruence in species assemblage patterns across taxonomic groups. In 40 springs, 69 species of algae, 110 species of diatoms, 29 species of lichens, and 62 species of bryophytes were found. Diatoms, lichens and bryophytes had higher species-richness in siliceous springs, while other algae had higher richness in carbonate springs. For all taxonomic groups, carbonate and siliceous springs host different assemblages, indicating that both types of substrata contribute to the overall regional diversity of spring photoautotrophs. In individual springs, the photoautotroph groups are characterised by a similar proportion of species of their regional pool, and form relatively speciespoor communities with a high turnover of species among springs. This pattern has important implications for conservation, suggesting that the protection of single sites might not be effective, and that a biodiversity conservation plan for spring habitats should be developed at the regional level, and include a network of sites. Interestingly, the co-occurrence indices suggested that, in individual springs, stochastic processes might the most important mechanisms in the establishment of local assemblages. A weak cross-taxon congruency was found, suggesting that a single taxon surrogate will not adequately represent other photoautotrophic groups. Therefore, spring conservation plans for photoautotrophs should not use one group as a surrogate for overall photoautotrophic diversity, but should adopt the use of different taxonomic groups.
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