Species–area relationships in continuous vegetation: Evidence from Palaearctic grasslands

Dengler J, Matthews TJ, Steinbauer M, Wolfrum S, Boch S, Chiarucci A, Conradi T, Dembicz I, Marcenò C, García-Mijangos I, Nowak A, Storch D, Ulrich W, Campos JA, Cancellieri L, Carboni M, Ciaschetti G, De Frenne P, Dolezal J, Dolnik C, Essl F, Fantinato E, Filibeck G, Grytnes JA, Guarino R, Güler B, Janišová M, Klichowska E, Kozub Ł, Kuzemko A, Manthey M, Mimet A, Naqinezhad A, Pedersen C, Peet RK, Pellissier V, Pielech R, Potenza G, Rosati L, Terzi M, Valkó O, Vynokurov D, White H, Winkler M, Biurrun I (2019)

Publication Type: Journal article

Publication year: 2019


DOI: 10.1111/jbi.13697


Aim: Species–area relationships (SARs) are fundamental scaling laws in ecology although their shape is still disputed. At larger areas, power laws best represent SARs. Yet, it remains unclear whether SARs follow other shapes at finer spatial grains in continuous vegetation. We asked which function describes SARs best at small grains and explored how sampling methodology or the environment influence SAR shape. Location: Palaearctic grasslands and other non-forested habitats. Taxa: Vascular plants, bryophytes and lichens. Methods: We used the GrassPlot database, containing standardized vegetation-plot data from vascular plants, bryophytes and lichens spanning a wide range of grassland types throughout the Palaearctic and including 2,057 nested-plot series with at least seven grain sizes ranging from 1 cm2 to 1,024 m2. Using nonlinear regression, we assessed the appropriateness of different SAR functions (power, power quadratic, power breakpoint, logarithmic, Michaelis–Menten). Based on AICc, we tested whether the ranking of functions differed among taxonomic groups, methodological settings, biomes or vegetation types. Results: The power function was the most suitable function across the studied taxonomic groups. The superiority of this function increased from lichens to bryophytes to vascular plants to all three taxonomic groups together. The sampling method was highly influential as rooted presence sampling decreased the performance of the power function. By contrast, biome and vegetation type had practically no influence on the superiority of the power law. Main conclusions: We conclude that SARs of sessile organisms at smaller spatial grains are best approximated by a power function. This coincides with several other comprehensive studies of SARs at different grain sizes and for different taxa, thus supporting the general appropriateness of the power function for modelling species diversity over a wide range of grain sizes. The poor performance of the Michaelis–Menten function demonstrates that richness within plant communities generally does not approach any saturation, thus calling into question the concept of minimal area.

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Involved external institutions

Universität Bayreuth DE Germany (DE) University of Birmingham GB United Kingdom (GB) Wissenschaftszentrum Weihenstephan für Ernährung, Landnutzung und Umwelt DE Germany (DE) Eidgenössische Forschungsanstalt für Wald, Schnee und Landschaft CH Switzerland (CH) University of Bologna / Università di Bologna IT Italy (IT) University of Warsaw / Uniwersytet Warszawski PL Poland (PL) University of Basque Country / Universidad del Pais Vasco (UPV) / Euskal Herriko Unibersitatea (EHU) ES Spain (ES) Polska Akademia Nauk (PAN) / Polish Academy of Sciences PL Poland (PL) Univerzita Karlova v Praze / Charles University in Prague CZ Czech Republic (CZ) Nicolaus Copernicus University (NCU) / Uniwersytet Mikołaja Kopernika w Toruniu (UMK) PL Poland (PL) Università degli Studi della Tuscia IT Italy (IT) University of Toronto CA Canada (CA) Nationalpark Majella IT Italy (IT) Universiteit Gent (UGent) / Ghent University BE Belgium (BE) Institute of Botany of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic CZ Czech Republic (CZ) Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel DE Germany (DE) Universität Wien / University of Vienna AT Austria (AT) Università Ca’ Foscari IT Italy (IT) University of Bergen / Universitetet i Bergen NO Norway (NO) Università degli Studi di Palermo IT Italy (IT) Dokuz Eylül Üniversitesi (DEU) TR Turkey (TR) Slovak Academy of Sciences (SAS) / Slovenská akadémia vied (SAV) SK Slovakia (SK) M.G. Kholodny Institute of Botany of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine UA Ukraine (UA) Universität Greifswald DE Germany (DE) Deutsches Zentrum für integrative Biodiversitätsforschung (iDiv) DE Germany (DE) University of Mazandaran DE Germany (DE) NIBIO - Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research NO Norway (NO) University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill US United States (USA) (US) Helmholtz-Zentrum für Umweltforschung (UFZ) / Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research DE Germany (DE) Uniwersytet Rolniczy im. Hugona Kołłątaja w Krakowie PL Poland (PL) Università degli Studi della Basilicata IT Italy (IT) Istituto di Bioscienze e Biorisorse (IBBR/CNR) IT Italy (IT) MTA-DE Lendület Functional and Restoration Ecology Research Group HU Hungary (HU) University College Dublin (UCD) IE Ireland (IE) Universität für Bodenkultur Wien (BOKU) / University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna AT Austria (AT)

How to cite


Dengler, J., Matthews, T.J., Steinbauer, M., Wolfrum, S., Boch, S., Chiarucci, A.,... Biurrun, I. (2019). Species–area relationships in continuous vegetation: Evidence from Palaearctic grasslands. Journal of Biogeography. https://doi.org/10.1111/jbi.13697


Dengler, Jürgen, et al. "Species–area relationships in continuous vegetation: Evidence from Palaearctic grasslands." Journal of Biogeography (2019).

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