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Plant-plant interactions as a mechanism structuring plant diversity in a Mediterranean semi-arid ecosystem.

ABSTRACT: Plant-plant interactions are among the fundamental processes that shape structure and functioning of arid and semi-arid plant communities. Despite the large amount of studies that have assessed the relationship between plant-plant interactions (i.e., facilitation and competition) and diversity, often researchers forget a third kind of interaction, known as allelopathy. We examined the effect of plant-plant interactions of three dominant species: the perennial grass Lygeum spartum, the allelopathic dwarf shrub Artemisia herba-alba, and the nurse shrub Salsola vermiculata, on plant diversity and species composition in a semi-arid ecosystem in NE Spain. Specifically, we quantified the interaction outcome (IO) based on species co-occurrence, we analyzed diversity by calculation of the individual species-area relationship (ISAR), and compositional changes by calculation of the Chao-Jaccard similarity index. We found that S. vermiculata had more positive IO values than L. spartum, and A. herba-alba had values between them. Lygeum spartum and A. herba-alba acted as diversity repellers, whereas S. vermiculata acted as a diversity accumulator. As aridity increased, A. herba-alba transitioned from diversity repeller to neutral and S. vermiculata transitioned from neutral to diversity accumulator, while L. spartum remained as diversity repeller. Artemisia herba-alba had more perennial grass species in its local neighborhood than expected by the null model, suggesting some tolerance of this group to its "chemical neighbor". Consequently, species that coexist with A. herba-alba were very similar among different A. herba-alba individuals. Our findings highlight the role of the nurse shrub S. vermiculata as ecosystem engineer, creating and maintaining patches of diversity, as well as the complex mechanism that an allelopathic plant may have on diversity and species assemblage. Further research is needed to determine the relative importance of allelopathy and competition in the overall interference of allelopathic plants.

PROVIDER: S-EPMC6102514 | BioStudies |

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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