GONZALEZ sofia Laura
Dwarf shrub facilitates seedling recruitment and plant diversity in semiarid grasslands
GONZALEZ, SOFÍA L.; GHERMANDI, LUCIANA
PUBLIC LIBRARY SCIENCE
Año: 2019 vol. 14
The facilitation mechanism maintains ecosystem richness by increasing seedling recruitment. Overgrazed grasslands of northwestern Patagonia are invaded by shrubs that could promote the seedling recruitment of forage species. We investigated the role of Acaena splendens shrubs on the maintenance of diversity and its usefulness as a nurse shrub in the recruitment of Festuca pallescens, a grass of high forage value present with a low cover in degraded grasslands. To test the performance of A.splendens as a nurse plant in non-degraded grassland, we recorded the species richness four years inside of A. splendens senescent shrubs and in gaps among dominant tussock grasses. Species were grouped in four functional groups: annual and biannual herbs and grasses, perennial herbs, perennial grasses and shrubs. To test the usefulness of A. splendens in the restoration of degraded grassland, we monitored the seedling emergence and survival of F. pallescens inside A. splendens and in gaps. We related seedling survival to meteorological and microenviron-mental conditions. Species richness was higher in Acaena nurse plants than in gaps. The frequency of functional groups, with exception of annual and biannual herbs and grasses, were higher in Acaena than in gaps. Seedling emergence and survival of F. pallescens were higher in Acaena, but the seedlings died in summer in both microsites. Mean maximum temperature was higher and mean minimum humidity lower in gaps than in Acaena during spring. However, the spring-summer season in which we monitored F. pallescens survival, was exceptionally dry and hot, affecting the survival of F. pallescens seedlings. Our results show that A. splendens act as a nurse species increasing the richness in the non-degraded grassland and facilitating the seedling recruitment of an important forage species in the degraded grassland. Nevertheless, the facilitation mechanism will fail in drought conditions, indicating that this restoration tool is limited by climate.