Can we infer plant facilitation from remote sensing? a test across global drylands

Authors

  • Chi Xu,

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Life Sciences, Nanjing University, 163 Xianlin Road, Nanjing 210023 People's Republic of China
    2. Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management Group, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 47, NL-6700 AA, Wageningen, The Netherlands
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  • Milena Holmgren,

    1. Resource Ecology Group, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 47, NL-6700 AA, Wageningen, The Netherlands
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  • Egbert H. Van Nes,

    1. Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management Group, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 47, NL-6700 AA, Wageningen, The Netherlands
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  • Fernando T. Maestre,

    1. Área de Biodiversidad y Conservación, Departamento de Biología y Geología, Física y Química Inorgánica, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, c/Tulipán s/n., E-28933 Móstoles, Spain
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  • Santiago Soliveres,

    1. Institute of Plant Sciences, University of Bern, Altenbergrain 21, 3013 Bern, Switzerland
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  • Miguel Berdugo,

    1. Área de Biodiversidad y Conservación, Departamento de Biología y Geología, Física y Química Inorgánica, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, c/Tulipán s/n., E-28933 Móstoles, Spain
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  • Sonia Kéfi,

    1. Institut des Sciences de l'Evolution, Université de Montpellier, CNRS, IRD, EPHE, CC065, Place Eugène Bataillon, 34095 Montpellier Cedex 05, France
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  • Pablo A. Marquet,

    1. Departamento de Ecología, Facultad de Ciencias Biológicas, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Alameda 340, Santiago, Chile
    2. Instituto de Ecología y Biodiversidad (IEB), Casilla 653, Santiago, Chile
    3. Laboratorio Internacional en Cambio Global (LINCGlobal) Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Alameda 340, Santiago, Chile
    4. The Santa Fe Institute, 1399 Hyde Park Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501 USA
    5. Centro Cambio Global UC (PUC-Global) Vicuña Mackenna 4860, Macul, Santiago, Chile
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  • Sebastián Abades,

    1. Departamento de Ecología, Facultad de Ciencias Biológicas, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Alameda 340, Santiago, Chile
    2. Instituto de Ecología y Biodiversidad (IEB), Casilla 653, Santiago, Chile
    3. Laboratorio Internacional en Cambio Global (LINCGlobal) Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Alameda 340, Santiago, Chile
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  • Marten Scheffer

    1. Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management Group, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 47, NL-6700 AA, Wageningen, The Netherlands
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  • Corresponding Editor: W. J. D. van Leeuwen.

Abstract

Facilitation is a major force shaping the structure and diversity of plant communities in terrestrial ecosystems. Detecting positive plant–plant interactions relies on the combination of field experimentation and the demonstration of spatial association between neighboring plants. This has often restricted the study of facilitation to particular sites, limiting the development of systematic assessments of facilitation over regional and global scales. Here we explore whether the frequency of plant spatial associations detected from high-resolution remotely sensed images can be used to infer plant facilitation at the community level in drylands around the globe. We correlated the information from remotely sensed images freely available through Google Earth with detailed field assessments, and used a simple individual-based model to generate patch-size distributions using different assumptions about the type and strength of plant–plant interactions. Most of the patterns found from the remotely sensed images were more right skewed than the patterns from the null model simulating a random distribution. This suggests that the plants in the studied drylands show stronger spatial clustering than expected by chance. We found that positive plant co-occurrence, as measured in the field, was significantly related to the skewness of vegetation patch-size distribution measured using Google Earth images. Our findings suggest that the relative frequency of facilitation may be inferred from spatial pattern signals measured from remotely sensed images, since facilitation often determines positive co-occurrence among neighboring plants. They pave the road for a systematic global assessment of the role of facilitation in terrestrial ecosystems.

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