Plants, small mammals, and the hierarchical landscape classifications of Patagonia

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Assemblages of plants were studied at 14 sites in northern Patagonia corresponding to localities at which we (Monjeau et al. 1997) earlier studied the relationship between small mammal assemblages and landscape classifications. This allowed us to test predictions that both plants and small mammals correspond to the more inclusive hierarchical landscape divisions but that plants track better than small mammals the less inclusive divisions. Species presence or absence of plants at each locality was used in a series of multivariate analyses and compared by correlation analysis with those generated from small mammal species data. Assemblages of both plants and small mammals corresponded to the upper divisions, which are based on climatic and geomorphological features, but small mammal assemblages did not correspond to the lower divisions of the landscape classifications. Three factors are considered as explanations for the observed differences between plants and small mammals: a) small mammal habitat is determined more by plant growth form than by plant species; b) trophic level differences between the two groups; and c) species pool size affects the resolution of microhabitat correspondence. Our data indicate that both plant assemblages and small mammal assemblages respond to climatic and geomorphological features, which is in contrast to the paradigm that mammal assemblages simply follow plant assemblages. We also attempted to reconcile classification systems in Patagonia by proposing a nomenclatural system based on a hierarchical classification. In the system proposed, ecoregion is the lowest division small mammal assemblages can recognize in Patagonia. Finally, we conclude that the hierarchical nature of landscapes based on a holistic view of environments reflects real entities that are not just the perceptions of landscape ecologists.

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