Allometry, growth and population regulation of the desert shrub Larrea tridentata


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  • 1Quantifying the effects of individual- and population-level processes on plant-community structure is of fundamental importance for understanding how biota contribute to the flux, storage and turnover of matter and energy in ecosystems.
  • 2Here we synthesize plant-allometry theory with empirical data to evaluate the roles of individual metabolism and competition in structuring populations of the creosote Larrea tridentata, a dominant shrub in deserts of southwestern North America.
  • 3At the individual level, creosote data support theoretical predictions with regard to the size dependence of total leaf mass, short-term growth rates of leaves and long-term growth rates of entire plants. Data also support the prediction that root–shoot biomass allocation is independent of plant size.
  • 4At the population level, size–abundance relationships within creosote stands deviate strongly from patterns observed for steady-state closed-canopy forests due to episodic recruitment events. This finding highlights that carbon storage and turnover in water-limited ecosystems can be inherently less predictable than in mesic environments due to pronounced environmental forcing on demographic variables.
  • 5Nevertheless, broad-scale comparative analyses across ecosystems indicate that the relationship of total abundance to average size for creosote populations adhere to the thinning rule observed and predicted by allometry theory. This finding indicates that primary production in water-limited ecosystems can be independent of standing biomass due to competition among plants for resources.
  • 6Our synthesis of theory with empirical data quantifies the primary roles of individual-level metabolism and competition in controlling the dynamics of matter and energy in water-limited ecosystems.