LESCANO Maria natalia
Refuse dumps from leaf-cutting ant nests reduce the intensity of above-ground competition among neighboring plants in a Patagonian steppe
FARJI-BRENER, A.G.; LESCANO M. N.
ACTA OECOLOGICA-INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF ECOLOGY
Lugar: Paris; Año: 2017
In arid environments, the high availability of sunlight due to the scarcity of trees suggests that plant competition take place mainly belowground for water and nutrients. However, the occurrence of soil disturbances that increase nutrient availability and thereby promote plant growth may enhance shoot competition between neighboring plants. We conducted a greenhouse experiment to evaluate the influence of the enriched soil patches generated by the leaf-cutting ant, Acromyrmex lobicornis, on the performance of the alien forb Carduus thoermeri (Asteraceae) under different intraspecific competition scenarios. Our results showed that substrate type and competition scenario affected mainly aboveground plant growth. As expected, plants growing without neighbors and in nutrient-rich ant refuse dumps showed more aboveground biomass than plants growing with neighbors and in nutrient-poor steppe soils. However, aboveground competition was more intense in nutrient-poor substrates: plants under shoot and full competition growing in the nutrient-rich ant refuse dumps showed higher biomass than those growing on steppe soils. Belowground biomass was similar among focal plants growing under different substrate type. Our results support the traditional view that increments in resource availability reduce competition intensity. Moreover, the fact that seedlings in this sunny habitat mainly compete aboveground illustrates how limiting factors may be scale-dependent and change in importance as plants grow.