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Research article2011Peer reviewed

Plant species richness in a natural Argentinian matorral shrub-land correlates negatively with levels of plant phosphorus

Blanck, Ylva-Li; Gowda, Juan; Mårtensson, Linda-Maria; Sandberg, Jakob; Fransson, Ann-Mari


The aim of this study was to ascertain whether there is a relationship between plant species richness and plant-available N, P and water in an environment subject to little anthropogenic disturbance. To accomplish this we studied the vegetation in matorral shrub-lands in northern Patagonia, Argentina. Due to the variation in slope, precipitation and aspect between the sites water status was determined using the (12)C/(13)C fraction, delta(13)C, to investigate whether this was a confounding factor. The numbers of herb, shrub, liana and tree species were determined at 20 sites along an estimated precipitation gradient. Leaf P and N content and the delta(13)C of Berberis buxifolia were determined, as well as the soil P and N content at the different sites. A negative correlation was found between species richness and Berberis buxifolia foliar P concentration (52% of the species richness variation was accounted for), and a positive correlation was found between plant species richness and Berberis buxifolia foliar N: P ratios (54% of the species richness variation was accounted for). The relationship between species richness and foliar P was seen when all layers of vegetation were included (trees, lianas, shrubs and herbs). Foliar N showed no correlation with species richness, while soil extractable NH(4) showed a weak positive correlation with the number of shrub layer species (lianas, shrubs and trees). The species richness of the shrub layer increased with decreasing values of delta(13)C. Low soil P availability thus affects local species richness in the matorral shrub-lands of Patagonia in Argentina although the growth of vegetation in the area has been shown to be limited by N. We suggest that low P levels increase plant species richness because low soil P concentration is associated with a high P partitioning and high potential for niche separation.


Available P; Available N; Species richness; (13)C/(12)C; Water availability; Multiple resources; Andean mountains

Published in

Plant and Soil
2011, Volume: 345, number: 1-2, pages: 11-21
Publisher: SPRINGER

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Environmental Sciences related to Agriculture and Land-use

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