We analysed the relationship between seed traits (weight, shape and dispersal structures) and the abundance and habitat segregation of Mediterranean grassland species. To take into account possible correlations with other plant traits, the study also includes 5 vegetative traits (growth form, plant longevity, clonality, onset of flowering and plant size) of commonly accepted functional importance. Data were recorded for 85 species from dehesa grasslands in central Spain. Species abundance was measured in upper (dry and less productive, high stress) and lower (moist and more productive, low stress) slope zones in the same area. Habitat segregation was estimated using an index based on the relative frequencies of species in upper and lower slope zones. Multiple regression models were fitted using species, as well as phylogenetically independent contrasts, as data points. Annual small-seeded species without specialised dispersal structures are over-represented in dehesa grasslands. Abundance was negatively related to seed weight in upper slope zones. None of the recorded plant traits were related to abundance in the lower slope zones. Habitat segregation was mainly related to seed weight, but also to some vegetative traits. Annual, early flowering and small-seeded species were relatively more abundant in the upper than the lower slope zones. This pattern is independent of phylogeny. Our results suggest that in dry Mediterranean grasslands, abundance of many species is determined by dispersal (production of numerous small seeds) rather than by competitive ability.
Abbreviations: CSA = Cross species analysis; PIA = Phylogenetically independent analysis; PIC = Phylogenetically independent contrast.