Question: Does the distribution of plant species found in forests correlate with variation in the Humus Index (based on a ranking of humus forms) and, if so, do the species exhibit different responses according to phyletic lineages?
Location: Paris Basin, France, with a temperate Atlantic climate
Methods: Mosses and vascular plants (herbs, ferns) were inventoried in two broad-leaved forests with contrasting soil conditions, where 15 and 16 sites were investigated, respectively. Variety of stand age and prevailing soil conditions were analysed in 5 plots and 20 subplots in a grid at each site. Mantel tests were used to estimate correlations between the Humus Index and plant species richness, taking into account spatial autocorrelation.
Results: The local (plot, subplot) species richness of moss communities increased with the Humus Index, i.e. when humus forms shifted from mull to moder. The reverse phenomenon was observed in vascular communities. The opposite response of these two plant groups could be explained by opposite strategies for nutrient capture which developed in the course of their evolutionary history.
Conclusions: Although not necessarily causative, the Humus Index predict fairly well changes in species richness which occur in forest vegetation, provided that phyletic lineages and geographical position are taken into consideration.