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Soil fertility and herb facilitation mediated by Retama sphaerocarpa

Rodrííguez-Echeverríía, S., Péérez-Fernáández, M. A.
Journal of vegetation science 2003 v.14 no.6 pp. 807-814
Mediterranean climate, Retama sphaerocarpa, biomass, canopy, environmental factors, herbaceous plants, herbs, legumes, microhabitats, nitrogen, nitrogen content, nutrient content, nutrients, phosphorus, plant growth, shrublands, shrubs, soil, soil fertility, species diversity, understory
Woody legumes growing in dry climates can increase soil nutrient content and facilitate plant growth in their understorey. We investigated differences in soil fertility and herbaceous community in relation to the presence and absence of the legume Retama sphaerocarpa in a shrubland in a mediterranean type climate. The results showed a higher content of limiting nutrients for plant growth, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, under the R. sphaerocarpa canopy. Herbaceous biomass, cover and nitrogen content increased below the canopy. However, species richness and diversity were diminished in the presence of a dense canopy of R. sphaerocarpa. Nitrogen isotopic analysis did not indicate a clear relationship between symbiotic fixation in R. sphaerocarpa and nitrogen content of soil and plants under its canopy. Nevertheless, herbs growing in the understorey showed a linear correlation between foliar N content and ¹⁵N values. The existence of a dense shrub canopy induced a smaller monthly variation in herb richness, diversity and biomass, suggesting that it provides a stable microhabitat facilitating herbaceous vegetation establishment and growth. The ‘‘shelter’’ effect was more important when environmental conditions became stressful for herbaceous plants.Nomenclature: Tutin et al. (1968––1980); Devesa (1995).