A model of geographical, environmental and regional variation in vegetation composition of pyrogenic grasslands of Florida

Susan C. Carr, University of Florida
Kevin M. Robertson, Tall Timbers Rsch Station
William J. Platt, Louisiana State University
Robert K. Peet, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


Aim To develop a landscape-level model that partitions variance in plant community composition among local environmental, regional environmental, and purely spatial predictive variables for pyrogenic grasslands (prairies, savannas and woodlands) throughout northern and central Florida. Location North and central Florida, USA. Methods We measured plant species composition and cover in 271 plots throughout the study region. A variation-partitioning model was used to quantify components of variation in species composition associated with the main and interaction effects of soil and topographic variables, climate variables and spatial coordinates. Partial correlations of environmental variables with community variation were identified using direct gradient analysis (redundancy analysis and partial redundancy analysis) and Monte Carlo tests of significance. Results Community composition was most strongly related to edaphic variables at local scales in association with topographic gradients, although geographically structured edaphic, climatic and pure spatial effects were also evident. Edaphic variables explained the largest portion of total variation explained (TVE) as a main effect (48%) compared with the main effects of climate (9%) and pure spatial factors (9%). The remaining TVE was explained by the interaction effect of climate and spatial factors (13%) and the three-way interaction (22%). Correlation analyses revealed that the primary compositional gradient was related to soil fertility and topographic position corresponding to soil moisture. A second gradient represented distinct geographical separation between the Florida panhandle and peninsular regions, concurrent with differences in soil characteristics. Gradients in composition corresponded to species richness, which was lower in the Florida peninsula. Main conclusions Environmental variables have the strongest influence on the species composition of Florida pyrogenic grasslands at both local and regional scales. However, the limited distributions of many plant taxa suggest historical constraints on species distributions from one physiographical region to the other (Florida panhandle and peninsula), although this pattern is partially confounded by regionally spatially structured environmental variables. Our model provides insight into the relative importance of local- and regional-scale environmental effects as well as possible historical constraints on floristic variation in pine-dominated pyrogenic grasslands of the south-eastern USA. © 2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.