Moderating effects of trees on the environment in their immediate proximity are considered an important force in structuring plant communities, especially in harsh environments. In the semi-arid regions of the middle Carpathian Basin, such facilitative influences are expected to become crucial for the survival of several plant species, given the current warming and drying tendencies. We used 20 × 20 m plots to analyze whether grassland species adapted to mesic conditions penetrate forest patches, where they are able to survive. Using transects and the moving split window analysis, we also investigated how far the positive effects of the forest patches extend into grasslands, and whether this enables the existence of a steppe community that cannot tolerate extreme dry conditions and unfavorable soils. We found that beside forest-related species, forest patches hosted large numbers of grassland-related species. Among them, plants of closed steppe grasslands were the most numerous, which usually cannot tolerate the harsh conditions of open sandy grasslands, and are often confined to areas with better water and soil conditions. Our results showed that there is a 5–8 m wide closed steppe zone around the forest patches. Some species that are not able to survive in open xeric sandy grasslands are restricted to this zone. Unfortunately, while considerable attention is paid to the research, protection and restoration of sandy grasslands, forest patches are usually neglected. Our results emphasize that the establishment of individual trees and groups of trees should be actively promoted, because they have considerable nature conservation benefits by supporing closed steppe species.
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Vol. 63 • No. 2