- 1Spatiotemporal responses to habitat conditions are important components of plant population and community dynamics. Plant stage or size is a common predictor of plant performance for a range of ecological conditions, including responses to neighbours. Plant response to local conditions varies from seedling establishment through to senescence, with strong implications for population regulation.
- 2I investigated size-dependent responses to near adult neighbours among a uniquely quantitative sample of mapped juvenile and adult bur-sage (Ambrosia dumosa), a common shrub in the Colorado Desert of California.
- 3Analyses of juvenile establishment and survival for two 5-year census periods from 1984 to 1989 and 1989 to 1994 determined that germination and survival was greater for juveniles located under adults compared with away from adults. However, analyses of neighbour effects on growth of plants from the 1984 cohort showed that near adult neighbours improved juvenile growth over the 10-year interval from 1984 to 1994, but reduced adult growth.
- 4A size-dependent, ontogenetic shift occurs because neighbouring adult plants significantly improve the demographic performance of juveniles, but diminish that of larger established plants.
- 5The ontogenetic niche shift may be a useful framework to describe such differential responses of juvenile and adult plants. The utility of this framework is that responses to spatial and temporal variability in the environment are clearly demonstrated through ontogenetic constraints on plant performance, which provide an alternative mechanism of coexistence within and between species.