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Burial disturbance leads to facilitation among coastal dune plants

Franks, S.J., Peterson, C.J.
Plant ecology 2003 v.168 no.1 pp. 13-21
sand, dunes, plant density, species diversity, interspecific competition, disturbed soils, plant stress, stress tolerance, viability, dry matter accumulation, roots, shoots, Florida
There is growing evidence that interactions among plants can be facilitative as well as competitive, but knowledge of how disturbances influence these interactions and how they vary with species diversity is lacking. We manipulated plant density, species diversity (richness), and a burial disturbance in a controlled, complete factorial experiment to test theories about the relationships among species interactions, disturbance, and richness. The hypotheses tested were 1) burial disturbance reduces plant performance at all levels of density and richness, 2) burial disturbance can cause net plant interactions to become more facilitative, and 3) facilitation increases with species richness. Burial decreased plant survival by 60% and biomass by 50%, supporting the hypothesis that burial reduces plant performance. In the control (unburied) treatment, there was no difference in proportion survival or per plant biomass between low and high density plots, meaning that neither competition nor facilitation was detected. In the buried treatment, however, high density plots had significantly greater survival and greater per plant biomass than the low density plots, indicating net facilitative interactions. Thus facilitation occurred in the buried treatment and not in the unburied control plots, supporting the hypothesis that facilitation increases with increasing disturbance severity. The hypothesis that facilitation increases with increasing species richness was not supported. Richness did not affect survival or biomass, and there was no richness by burial treatment interaction, indicating that richness did not influence the response of the community to burial. The influence of the disturbance on plant interactions was thus consistent across levels of richness, increasing the generality of the relationship between disturbance and facilitation.