Facilitation by nurse shrubs of resprouting behavior in a post-fire shrubland in northern Patagonia, Argentina


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Abstract. The nurse-plant syndrome is a widely recognized example of positive (facilitative) influences of plant species on the establishment and growth of other species. Most studies of the nurse-plant syndrome have been on species that reproduce mainly from seed rather than vegetatively. In this study, we experimentally compared the influences of two species of nurse shrubs, Schinus patagonicus and Berberis buxifolia, on the survival and growth of vegetatively reproducing herbaceous and woody plants in a post-fire shrubland in northern Patagonia, Argentina. The vegetation beneath shrubs was removed by clipping and, in a paired-sample design, one half of the canopy of each shrub was removed. We determined species richness, counted number of resprouts, and measured photon flux density and soil moisture beneath cut and uncut halves of each shrubs.

Abundances of resprouts were several times greater beneath the uncut vs. the cut shrubs, as was the mean number of species. Thus, shrubs have a strong facilitating influence as measured by resprout densities and the number of species. Numbers of resprouts and of species were twice as high beneath Schinus as beneath Berberis, implying important differences in the facilitative effects of the two shrubs species. Microsites beneath Schinus were characterized by lower and more heterogeneous light levels but by greater soil moisture. Even though the reproductive mode in this post-fire shrubland is overwhelmingly vegetative, facilitation by nurse shrubs is important and differentially effective for different species of nurse shrubs.