The spatial variation of ecosystem function was studied in a Quercus ilex coppice growing on hard limestone with low soil water availability. Spatial structures obtained from data on i) leaf area index, ii) leaf litterfall, and iii) leaf litter decay rate were compared. All these variables were sampled on 26 points located within a 30 x 30 m plot. Mean average leaf litterfall over 10 years (1984-1993) was 254 g.m-2. For each year, the semivariograms of leaf litterfall have been fitted using a spherical model. The values of the range parameter (indicating the limit of the spatial dependence) ranged from 6.4 to 10.3 m, very close to the value (9.2 m) of the range parameter obtained when fitting the semivariogram of mean leaf litterfall over 10 years. This result indicates the temporal persistence of the spatial pattern of leaf litterfall. The leaf area index (LAI) was estimated at the same points with a plant canopy analyzer. The mean value was 2.96 ± 0.30. The limit of spatial dependence for LAI was very close to that obtained for leaf litterfall (range = 8.5 m). The litter decomposition pattern was obtained through analysis of litter samples taken at the same points. The percentage of ash-free litter mass remaining (LMR) estimated using near-infrared reflectance spectroscopy indicates the stage of decomposition. It decreased strongly between the surface (mean value 85.6%) and the subsurface layers (mean value 63.4%). The two semivariograms can be described by spherical models, the sill being reached at a range of 21.4 and 18.7 m for the surface and subsurface layers, respectively. The two variables directly related to the structure of the canopy (LAI and leaf litterfall) exhibited close spatial dependence and differed from the soil process-related variables (stage of decomposition) whose ranges were approximately double. These geostatistical analyses show promise for use in developing hypotheses concerning the spatial scale of process-pattern interactions.
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