In this study, we analyze the complexity of plant spatial patterns and diversity along a successional gradient resulting from grazing disturbance in four characteristic ecosystems of the Mediterranean region. Grazing disturbance include not only defoliation by animals, but also associated disturbances as animal trampling, soil compaction, and mineralization by deposition of urine and feces. The results show that woodland and dense matorral are more resistant to species loss than middle dense and scattered matorral, or grassland. Information fractal dimension declined as we moved from a dense to a discontinuous matorral, increasing as we moved to a more scattered matorral and a grassland. In all studied cases, the characteristic species of the natural vegetation declined in frequency and organization with grazing disturbance. Heliophyllous species and others with postrate or rosette twigs increased with grazing pressure, particularly in dense matorral. In the more degraded ecosystem, only species with well-adapted traits, e.g., buried buds or unpalatable qualities showed a clear increase with grazing. Indeed, the homogeneity of species distribution within the plant community declined monotonically with grazing impact. Conversely, the spatial organization of the characteristic plants of each community increased in the better-preserved areas, being also related to the sensitivity of the species to grazing impact. The degree of autocorrelation of plant spatial distribution at the species level and the information fractal dimension at the community level allow us to quantify the degree of degradation of natural communities and to determine the sensitivity of key species to disturbance. (C) 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.