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Ecology. 2008 Feb;89(2):380-91.

Context matters: matrix vegetation influences native and exotic species composition on habitat islands.

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Landcare Research, Lincoln 7640, New Zealand.


The extensive research on plant communities of natural-habitat islands has primarily focused on the "islands." The island analogy, however, potentially limits understanding of processes influencing composition on habitat islands because the nature of their matrix is overlooked. We determine how plant community structure of the surrounding matrix influences vegetation on volcanic outcrops in the modified landscape of Banks Peninsula, New Zealand. Our primary purpose is to address whether the matrix is more important for recently established exotic species than it is for well-established native species and whether such invasion by exotics has led to homogenization of the outcrop flora. To test this, we examined our data at three spatial scales: that of the entire outcrop flora, between individual outcrops and their immediate surrounding matrix, and between individual outcrop faces and the individual relev├ęs of the immediate surrounding matrix. We found that 81% of the native flora and 90% of the exotic flora also occur in the matrix. This high level of species shared between the outcrop and matrix persists at the scale of individual outcrop faces (68% of the total flora of individual faces is shared with the matrix). We predicted that floras from different outcrops would vary in their distinctiveness from their immediate matrix. We found Bray-Curtis distance coefficient values to range from 0.26 to 0.64; these were even higher at the outcrop-face scale. Variability in outcrop distinctiveness relates primarily to the outcrop face properties of area, vegetation height, and soil depth, and matrix properties of vegetation structure and vegetation heterogeneity. The effect of the vegetation structure of the matrix is more pronounced on the exotic than on the native outcrop flora. The component of composition and structure of the matrix that was independent of outcrop properties and local environment accounts for similar levels of explainable variation in total and native composition (29-31%), but considerably more (40%) in composition of exotic species. Our results support our prediction that, as the surrounding matrix becomes more modified, invasion by exotics makes outcrop vegetation less distinct from its matrix.

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