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Herbivore-mediated facilitation alters composition and increases richness and diversity in ruderal communities

Hierro, José L., Cock, Marina C.
Plant ecology 2013 v.214 no.10 pp. 1287-1297
Euphorbia, community structure, herbaceous plants, herbivores, palatability, plant communities, reproductive performance
Little is known about positive interactions among members of herbaceous plant communities initiating secondary succession (i.e., ruderal communities). Here, we explored the possibility that Euphorbia schickendantzii (Euphorbia), a latex-containing herb, facilitates other ruderals by protecting them from herbivores in recently plowed and overgrazed sites in central Argentina. To test this hypothesis, we compared plant number, height, reproductive output, and herbivore damage for four species when associated with Euphorbia versus in adjacent open zones without Euphorbia. Additionally, we classified species in the community according to their palatability, and compared community composition, richness, and diversity between Euphorbia and open zones. Dominant (66 % relative abundance) and highly palatable species exhibited increased plant number, size, and fecundity, and decreased herbivory when associated with Euphorbia relative to non-Euphorbia zones. In contrast, a physically and chemically well-defended species showed greater number of individuals in the open and no differences in herbivory between sampling zones. In detrended correspondence analysis, ordination scores of most palatable species were closer to Euphorbia, while those of most unpalatable species were closer to the open. Community composition differed between areas, with six species (25 % of the community) occurring exclusively with Euphorbia and three other species occurring only in open zones. Additionally, richness and diversity were greater in communities associated with Euphorbia than in those associated with non-Euphorbia zones. These results support our hypothesis, highlight the importance of facilitation in altering community-level responses, and indicate that positive interactions can play a more significant role in organizing terrestrial ruderal communities than previously recognized. © 2013 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.