Multivariate drivers of diversity in temperate Australian native grasslands Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • Disturbance has been considered essential for maintaining biodiversity in temperate grassy ecosystems in Australia. This has been particularly well demonstrated for inter-tussock plant species in C4 Themeda-dominated grasslands in mesic environments. Disturbance is also thought crucial to maintain the structure of preferred habitat for some animals. Relationships between disturbance and diversity may be contingent on ecosystem productivity, but little is known about the generality of the disturbance-promoting-diversity paradigm across the range of temperate grasslands. To date, the disturbance-promoting-diversity paradigm has taken a univariate approach to the drivers of biodiversity; rainfall is seen as a key driver of productivity, which then drives diversity, mediated by disturbance. We argue that this framework is too simplistic as biodiversity drivers are multivariate. We suggest that the accumulation of phytomass (live and dead plant material) is an important determinant of diversity in grassy ecosystems and that phytomass accumulation is governed by multiple drivers (of which disturbance is just one). For fauna, it is structure – not biomass – that determines habitat suitability, and this can be moderated by both abiotic and biotic drivers. The assumption that there is a consistent effect of disturbance on diversity through the range of temperate grassland settings in southern Australia ignores the likelihood that biodiversity also responds to other factors such as spatial heterogeneity in the environment, resource availability and climatic variation. We developed a conceptual model of the multivariate drivers of grassland diversity that explores mechanisms underpinning patterns of species richness. Despite four decades of research, it is clear that our understanding of the multivariate drivers of diversity across the range of temperate grasslands in Australia is still incomplete. Further research into the conditions under which disturbance is required to maintain biodiversity in grasslands is integral to conservation planning in these endangered systems.

publication date

  • 2019