Desert shrubs have negative or neutral effects on annuals at two levels of water availability in arid lands of South Australia
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
The journal of ecology. - Oxford
, p. 1230-1237
1 Perennial plants have been shown to facilitate understorey annual plant species in arid lands through the modification of spatial patterns of resources and conditions. This effect can result from a balance between simultaneously positive and negative interactions, both direct and indirect. This balance may shift with temporal variability in water availability. 2 We conducted a field experiment in a chenopod shrubland in South Australia to separate the effects of shade, below-ground competition, and soil modification by shrubs on the performance of annual plants, and to determine if the strength and direction of the interaction shifted with changes in water availability. 3 Annual plant diversity and seedling density was highest in plots established in open sites away from the dominant shrubs (Maireana sedifolia). Experimental removal of M. sedifolia increased seedling density compared to plots under undisturbed shrubs and plots where the removed shrub was replaced with artificial shade. Shading of open plots also reduced seedling density. Annual plant biomass was highest in areas where shrubs had been removed and was reduced by artificial shading. Biomass was higher in open plots than under intact shrubs. Experimental water addition did not alter plant density, but increased biomass across all treatments, particularly in artificially shaded bush plots. 4 Synthesis. Our results show that the overall effect of shrubs on the annual plant community in the system is negative under the range of water availabilities experienced during the experiment. This negative net-effect results from a combination of simultaneous facilitation via soil modification, and above- and below-ground competition. Assessment in different systems of different combinations of mechanisms that have simultaneously positive and negative effects will allow us to refine hypotheses seeking to explain the relative importance of facilitation across spatial and temporal gradients.