Questions: What are the nurse effects of Rhodomyrtus tomentosa in degraded land of South China? Are canopy or soil factors responsible for the main nurse effect? Do facilitative effects increase with the shade tolerance of the target species?
Location: Degraded shrubland in South China.
Methods: Seedlings of three native climax woody species (Schima superba, Michelia macclurei, Castanopsis fissa) that differ in shade tolerance were subjected to four treatments by transplantation: (1) under the canopy of R. tomentosa shrubs; (2) in open interspaces without vegetation cover (control); (3) under the canopy of R. tomentosa from which canopies had been removed; and (4) in open interspaces without vegetation but covered by branches and leaves of R. tomentosa.
Results: At low soil nutrient levels, increased canopy shade, soil porosity and soil moisture under the canopy of R. tomentosa increased seedling survival of the climax tree species S. superba, C. fissa and M. macclurei, and shoot height of S. superba. The nurse effect (a form of facilitation) of R. tomentosa depended more on canopy shade than on soil amelioration. The magnitude of facilitation or nurse effect was positively correlated with shade tolerance of the target species.
Conclusions: Use of nurse plants in restoration differs from traditional reforestation (clearing and/or burning to reduce interspecific competition between target tree species and non-target species) because it focuses on positive interactions between nurse plants and target plants that increase establishment of target species and reduce time required for restoration. Because nurse effects of R. tomentosa shrubs tended to be larger on target species with greater shade tolerance, shade-tolerant plants are suggested as target species to accelerate restoration.