Positive interactions between alpine plant species and the nurse cushion plant Laretia acaulis do not increase with elevation in the Andes of central Chile
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In alpine habitats, positive interactions among plants tend to increase with elevation as a result of altitudinal increase in environmental harshness. However, in mountains located in arid zones, lower elevations are also stressful because of scarce availability of water, suggesting that positive interactions may not necessarily increase with elevation. Here we analysed the spatial association of plant species with the nurse cushion plant Laretia acaulis at two contrasting elevations, and monitored the survival of seedlings of two species experimentally planted within and outside cushions in the semiarid Andes of central Chile. Positive spatial associations with cushions were more frequent at lower elevations. Species growing at the two elevations changed the nature of their association with cushions from neutral or negative at higher elevations to positive at lower elevations. Survival of seedlings was higher within cushions, particularly at lower elevations. The increased facilitation by cushions at lower elevations seems to be related to provision of moisture. This result suggests that cushion plants play a critical role in structuring alpine plant communities at lower elevations, and that climatic changes in rainfall could be very relevant for persistence of plant communities.
Quote ItemNEW PHYTOLOGIST Volume: 169 Issue: 1 Pages: 59-69 Published: JAN 2006