The importance of Olneya tesota as a nurse plant in the Sonoran Desert



Abstract. The function of Olneya tesota (ironwood) as a nurse plant and habitat modifier species in the Sonoran Desert was evaluated at five study sites (using 75 250-m2 sample plots) from Bahia Kino, Sonora to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona. Beneath the canopy of O. tesota trees 75 perennial plant species were found. A principal component ordination of the plots created three groups: southern, perturbed and protected sites. A strong triple association of columnar cacti, big shrubs with berry type fruits and O. tesota was detected. The relationships of Lophocereus schottii and Peniocereus striatus with O. tesota were studied in more detail. Significant differences in soil surface temperatures and stem temperatures of P. striatus were detected beneath the shade of O. tesota trees compared with soils and plants in open spaces. Olneya tesota must be considered as a habitat modifier species with ecological and conservational importance to the plant communities in the Sonoran Desert.