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Benefits of Using Shrubs as Nurse Plants for Reforestation in Mediterranean Mountains: A 4-Year Study

Authors

  • Jorge Castro,

    Corresponding author
    1.  Grupo de Ecología Terrestre, Departamento de Biología Animal y Ecología, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Granada, E-18071 Granada, Spain
    2.  Physiological Ecology Research Group, Botanical Institute, University of Copenhagen, Øster Farimagsgade 2D, DK-1353, Copenhagen K, Denmark
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  • Regino Zamora,

    1.  Grupo de Ecología Terrestre, Departamento de Biología Animal y Ecología, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Granada, E-18071 Granada, Spain
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  • José A. Hódar,

    1.  Grupo de Ecología Terrestre, Departamento de Biología Animal y Ecología, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Granada, E-18071 Granada, Spain
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  • José M. Gómez,

    1.  Grupo de Ecología Terrestre, Departamento de Biología Animal y Ecología, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Granada, E-18071 Granada, Spain
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  • Lorena Gómez-Aparicio

    1.  Grupo de Ecología Terrestre, Departamento de Biología Animal y Ecología, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Granada, E-18071 Granada, Spain
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Abstract

Shrubs are commonly considered competitors of planted seedlings in reforestation programs. However, shrubs can facilitate the establishment of understory seedlings in environments that, like Mediterranean-type ecosystems, are characterized by harsh environmental conditions. In 1997, an experiment was set up in the Sierra Nevada mountains (southeast Spain) to test the use of shrubs as nurse plants for an alternative reforestation technique. Two-year-old seedlings of Pinus sylvestris and Pinus nigra were planted in four microhabitats: (1) open interspaces without vegetation (which is the usual method employed in reforestation programs), (2) under individuals of the shrub Salvia lavandulifolia, (3) under the north side of spiny shrubs, and (4) under the south side of spiny shrubs. Seedlings were also distributed in plots with and without ungulates to test the effect of herbivore damage. We report here the results of survival and growth after four growing seasons, a time span long enough to draw robust conclusions concerning the suitability of this technique. Pine survival was remarkably higher when planted under individuals of S. lavandulifolia as compared with open areas (2.6 times for P. sylvestris and 1.8 for P. nigra). The survival of both pine species was also higher when planted on the north side of spiny shrubs, while mortality on the south side was similar to that found in open areas. The reduction of solar radiation by the canopy of shrubs was likely the main factor determining shrub facilitation. The growth of the pines differed among years. However, growth was not inhibited when planted with shrubs as compared with open areas in any of the years. Herbivore damage was low but was mostly concentrated in the leader shoot, exacerbating the deleterious effect of ungulate herbivores on pine growth. We conclude that the use of shrubs as nurse plants for reforestation is a viable technique to increase establishment success of reforestation in Mediterranean-type ecosystems and that it might be similarly useful in other water-stressed environments. In addition, this technique offers the advantage of following natural succession, thus minimizing the impact in the community.

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