Questions: 1. Do the species composition, richness and diversity of sapling communities vary significantly in differently sized patches? 2. Do forest patches of different sizes differ in woody plant colonization patterns?
Location: São Francisco de Paula, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, 29°28′ S, 50°13′ W.
Methods: Three woody vegetation types, differing in structural development (patch size) and recovering for 10 years from cattle and burning disturbances, were sampled on grassland. We analysed the composition and complexity of the woody sapling communities, through relative abundance, richness and diversity patterns. We also evaluated recruitment status (residents vs. colonizers) of species in communities occurring in different forest patch size classes.
Results: 1. There is a compositional gradient in sapling communities strongly associated with forest patch area. 2. Richness and diversity are positively correlated to patch area, but only in poorly structured patches; large patches present richness and diversity values similar to small patches. 3. Resident to colonizer abundance ratio increases from nurse plants to large patches. The species number proportion between residents and colonizers is similar in small and large patches and did not differ between these patch types. 4. Large patches presented a high number of exclusive species, while nurse plants and small patches did not.
Conclusions: Woody plant communities in Araucaria forest patches are associated with patch structure development. Richness and diversity patterns are linked to patch colonization patterns. Generalist species colonize the understorey of nurse plants and small patches; resident species cannot recruit many new individuals. In large patches, sapling recruitment by resident adults precludes the immigration of new species into the patches, limiting richness and diversity.