Question: How does the interaction between two dominant shrub species in a coastal sand dune community change during their life history? Does this interaction influence their population dynamics?
Location: A semiarid coastal sand dune system in southeast Spain.
Methods: For 3 years we monitored physiological status, growth and reproductive effort of Juniperus phoenicea and Pistacia lentiscus, the dominant shrub species, growing either alone or in close spatial association. We also recorded adult mortality patterns and characterized seedling survival, soil properties and microclimate conditions beneath canopies and in bare ground.
Results and conclusions: There was a strong bi-directional interaction between the two studied species, with a net balance that changed in sign with increasing plant development. While mature individuals facilitated the establishment of seedlings of both species, adult mortality patterns suggested asymmetric competition at later life stages. The interaction with Pistacia negatively affected growth of juniper and contributed to its high mortality rates, while juniper had almost no effect on mature Pistacia individuals. Physiological data suggested that Pistacia had a competitive advantage over juniper, most likely because of differences in rooting patterns and tolerance to salinity, which may determine the source of water available for each species. Community dynamics are governed by facilitation at the seedling stage and shaped by differences in physiological traits in adult plants. Plant-plant interactions, which are strongly affected by environmental gradients, are important drivers of community dynamics in this system.