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Biological crusts are a common feature of the soil surface in arid and semi-arid ecosystems, where they play a major role in ecosystem functioning. In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in the ecophysiology, floristics, and dynamics of crust-forming lichens but little is known about the effect of vascular plants on their small-scale spatial distribution. To increase our understanding about the interactions between crust-forming lichens and vegetation in semi-arid areas, the spatial pattern and interaction of two soil lichens, Cladonia convoluta and Squamarina cartilaginea, at two microsites in semi-arid Stipa tenacissima steppe of south-eastern Spain are evaluated. The aim of this study was to determine if the microsite provided by Stipa tussocks promoted changes in the individual patterns and in the spatial covariation of these soil lichens. Spatial analysis by distance index (SADIE) coupled with correlation analysis was used to explore the individual patterns and the spatial relationships between the two species. SADIE detected a significant clumped pattern in the spatial distribution of both species, but Stipa tussocks promoted changes only in the spatial pattern of Cladonia. Correlation analysis revealed the presence of significant relationships between the two species, particularly close to Stipa tussocks. The results show that the microenvironment provided by Stipa is able to modify the small-scale spatial pattern of soil lichens in semi-arid steppe, and suggest the presence of facilitation between Stipa and Cladonia.
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