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Scale-Dependent Feedbacks Between Patch Size and Plant Reproduction in Desert Grassland
- Svejcar, Lauren N., Bestelmeyer, Brandon T., Duniway, Michael C., James, Darren K.
- Ecosystems 2015 v.18 no.1 pp. 146-153
- Bouteloua eriopoda, arid lands, deserts, ecosystems, grasses, grasslands, models, plant reproduction, vegetation structure, Chihuahuan Desert
- Theoretical models suggest that scale-dependent feedbacks between plant reproductive success and plant patch size govern transitions from highly to sparsely vegetated states in drylands, yet there is scant empirical evidence for these mechanisms. Scale-dependent feedback models suggest that an optimal patch size exists for growth and reproduction of plants and that a threshold patch organization exists below which positive feedbacks between vegetation and resources can break down, leading to critical transitions. We examined the relationship between patch size and plant reproduction using an experiment in a Chihuahuan Desert grassland. We tested the hypothesis that reproductive effort and success of a dominant grass (Bouteloua eriopoda) would vary predictably with patch size. We found that focal plants in medium-sized patches featured higher rates of grass reproductive success than when plants occupied either large patch interiors or small patches. These patterns support the existence of scale-dependent feedbacks in Chihuahuan Desert grasslands and indicate an optimal patch size for reproductive effort and success in B. eriopoda. We discuss the implications of these results for detecting ecological thresholds in desert grasslands.