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Journal of Arid Land  2020, Vol. 12 Issue (4): 653-665    DOI: 10.1007/s40333-020-0021-x
Research article     
Rehabilitation of degraded areas in northeastern Patagonia, Argentina: Effects of environmental conditions and plant functional traits on performance of native woody species
M ZEBERIO Juan1,2,*(), A PÉREZ Carolina3
1 National University of Río Negro, Atlantic Headquarters, Center for Environmental Studies from Norpatagonia (CEANPa), Viedma 8500, Argentina;
2 National Council of Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET), Viedma 8500, Argentina
3 Ecological and Environmental Systems Research Laboratory (LISEA), National University of La Plata, La Plata 1900, Argentina
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Degradation processes affect a vast area of arid and semi-arid lands around the world and damage the environment and people′s health. Degradation processes are driven by human productive activities that cause direct and indirect effects on natural resources, such as species extinction at regional scale, reduction and elimination of vegetation cover, soil erosion, etc. In this context, ecological rehabilitation is an important tool to recover key aspects of the degraded ecosystem. Rehabilitation trials rely on the use of native plant species with characteristics that allow them to obtain high survival and growth rates. The aim of this work was to assess the survival and growth of native woody species in degraded areas of northeastern Patagonia and relate them to plant functional traits and environmental variables. We observed high early and late survival rates, and growth rates in Prosopis flexuosa DC. var. depressa F.A. Roig and Schinus johnstonii F.A. Barkley, and low values in Condalia microphylla Cav. and Geoffroea decorticans (Gillies ex Hook. & Arn.) Burkart. Early survival rates were positively associated with specific leaf area (SLA) and precipitation, but negatively associated with wood density, the maximum mean temperature of the warmest month and the minimum mean temperature of the coldest month. Late survival rates were positively associated with SLA and soil organic matter, but negatively associated with plant height and precipitation. The temperature had a positive effect on late survival rates once the plants overcame the critical period of the first summer after they were transplanted to the field. Prosopis flexuosa and S. johnstonii were the most successful species in our study. This could be due to their functional traits that allow these species to acclimatize to the local environment. Further research should focus on C. microphylla and G. decorticans to determine how they relate to productive conditions, acclimation to environmental stress, auto-ecology and potential use in ecological rehabilitation trials.

Key wordsarid lands      Condalia microphylla      Geoffroea decorticans      Prosopis flexuosa      Schinus johnstonii      survival rates      height growth      basal diameter growth     
Received: 15 December 2019      Published: 10 July 2020
Corresponding Authors: M ZEBERIO Juan     E-mail:
About author: *Corresponding author: Juan M ZEBERIO (E-mail:
Cite this article:

Juan M ZEBERIO, Carolina A PéREZ. Rehabilitation of degraded areas in northeastern Patagonia, Argentina: Effects of environmental conditions and plant functional traits on performance of native woody species. Journal of Arid Land, 2020, 12(4): 653-665.

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Site Latitude Longitude Land use Age of clearing (a)
Err 41°09'11''S 63°25′19″W Rainfed agriculture 25
Itu 41°01'04''S 63°01′40″W Extensive livestook 23
Bos 40°39'30''S 62°52′00″W Rainfed agriculture 20
Table 1 Location and land use in each rehabilitation trial site
Site Geomorphological region Soil texture Depth
Err Loess plateau Sandy >1.00 8.2 0.58 1.27 0.53 0.06 0.0089
Itu Loess plateau Sandy-loamy 0.45 8.2 0.54 1.41 1.06 0.09 0.0087
Bos Interfluvial plateau Loamy 0.12 7.8 1.78 0.43 0.30 0.03 0.0023
Table 2 Characteristics of rehabilitation trial sites
Fig. 1 Location of rehabilitation trial sites (Bos, Itu and Err) in northeastern Patagonia
Fig. 2 Precipitation in rehabilitation trial sites (Bos, Itu and Err) and historical monthly average precipitation during 2013-2016. Data were cited from de Berasategui (2004).
Woody species SLA
Foliage Height
Life form
C. microphylla 26.5 1270 Evergreen 0.5-2.0 Shrub
G. decorticans 103.2 970 Deciduous 1.4-4.0 Tree
S. johnstonii 28.5 995 Evergreen 1.5 Shrub
P. flexuosa 141.5 980 Deciduous 2.5 Shrub
Table 3 Summary of plant characteristics used in rehabilitation trial sites
Fig. 3 Woody species early survival rate recorded in December 2013 (seven months after field planting). Different lowercase letters indicate significant differences among different sites and woody species at P<0.05 level.
Fig. 4 Woody species late survival rate recorded in February 2016 (thirty one months after field planting). Different lowercase letters indicate significant differences among different sites and woody species at P<0.05 level.
Fig. 5 Woody species height during 2013-2016. Different lowercase letters indicate significant differences among different sites and woody species at P<0.05 level.
Fig. 6 Woody species basal diameter of stem during 2013-2016. Different lowercase letters indicate significant differences among different sites and woody species at P<0.05 level.
Fig. 7 Structural equation model (SEM) for the environmental variables (minimum temperature in July, maximum temperature in January, soil depth and soil organic matter (OM), specific leaf area (SLA), wood density and plant height) and estimated variables (early survival rate, late survival rate, diameter growth and height growth). The numbers next to arrows are path coefficients and they show the strengths of the effect. Non-significant (P>0.05) paths were eliminated. ** and *** indicate significances among variables at P<0.01 and P<0.001 levels, respectively.
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