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Factors affecting cactus recruitment in semiarid Chile: A role for nurse effects?

Cares, Rocío A., Muñoz, Pablo A., Medel, Rodrigo, Botto-Mahan, Carezza
Flora 2013 v.208 no.5-6 pp. 330-335
Echinopsis, Flourensia, cacti and succulents, mature plants, microhabitats, nurse plants, recruitment, relative humidity, seedlings, semiarid zones, shrubs, soil, soil nutrients, survival rate, temperature, water content, Brazil, Chile
The nurse-protégé hypothesis states that adult plants of one species provide micro-environmental conditions that favor the establishment of seedlings of a second species with no effect for the first species. Several studies suggest this effect should be prevalent in arid and semiarid zones as adult plants often provide shelter from low moisture and high temperature. Echinopsis chiloensis and Eulychnia acida are endemic columnar cacti that inhabit the arid and semiarid zones of Chile. In this study, we examined the pattern of recruitment of both cactus species at Reserva Nacional Las Chinchillas, located ∼60km east from the Pacific coast. We determined number, growth and survivorship of young cacti (<30cm height) through biannual monitoring between 2009 and 2012 in microhabitats that strongly differ in their abiotic variables (minimum and maximum temperature and mean relative humidity, moisture content, and physical and chemical soil characteristics), under five different shrub species and in open spaces, and examined the association of these cacti with potential nurse plants. Most young cacti occurred under shrubs, the microhabitat having the lowest mean and maximum temperatures and the highest relative humidity. In particular, E. chiloensis and E. acida were found under the shrubs Flourensia thurifera and Bahia ambrosioides, respectively, in a higher frequency than expected by chance, suggesting that these shrub species behave as nurse plants through species-specific effects than are not accounted for by differences in soil nutrients.