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Applying plant facilitation to forest restoration in Mediterranean ecosystems: a meta-analysis of the use of shrubs as nurse plants

AuthorsGómez Aparicio, Lorena ; Zamora Rodríguez, Regino; Gómez Reyes, José M.; Hódar, José Antonio; Castro Gutiérrez, Jorge; Baraza Ruiz, Elena
KeywordsAbiotic stress
Ecological succession
Mediterranean mountains
Nurse shrubs
Plant–plant interactions
Spatial and temporal variability
Tree and shrub seedlings
Issue Date2004
PublisherEcological Society of America
CitationEcological Applications 14(4): 1128–1138 (2004)
AbstractAfter a millenarian history of overexploitation, most forests in the Mediterranean Basin have disappeared, leaving many degraded landscapes that have been recolonized by early successional shrub-dominated communities. Common reforestation techniques treat these shrubs as competitors against newly planted tree seedlings; thus shrubs are cleared before tree plantation. However, empirical studies and theory governing plant– plant interactions suggest that, in stress-prone Mediterranean environments, shrubs can have a net positive effect on recruitment of other species. Between 1997 and 2001, we carried out experimental reforestations in the Sierra Nevada Protected Area (southeast Spain) with the aim of comparing the survival and growth of seedlings planted in open areas (the current reforestation technique) with seedlings planted under the canopy of preexisting shrub species. Over 18 000 seedlings of 11 woody species were planted under 16 different nurse shrubs throughout a broad geographical area. We sought to explore variation in the sign and magnitude of interactions along spatial gradients defined by altitude and aspect. In the present work, we report the results of a meta-analysis conducted with seedling survival and growth data for the first summer following planting, the most critical period for reforestation success in Mediterranean areas. The facilitative effect was consistent in all environmental situations explored (grand mean effect size d1 5 0.89 for survival and 0.27 for growth). However, there were differences in the magnitude of the interaction, depending on the seedling species planted as well as the nurse shrub species involved. Additionally, nurse shrubs had a stronger facilitative effect on seedling survival and growth at low altitudes and sunny, drier slopes than at high altitudes or shady, wetter slopes. Facilitation in the dry years proved higher than in the one wet year. Our results show that pioneer shrubs facilitate the establishment of woody, late-successional Mediterranean species and thus can positively affect reforestation success in many different ecological settings.
Description11 pages, 4 figures, 1 table, 75 references. We thank the Consejería de Medio Ambiente, Junta de Andalucía, and the Direction of the National Park of Sierra Nevada for permission to field work, constant support and facilities. We are also especially grateful to Empresa de Transformación Agraria S.A. (TRAGSA) for carrying out the experimental reforestation. We thank Sergio de Haro and several students for field assistance. David Nesbitt looked over the English version of the manuscript.
Publisher version (URL)DOI: 10.1890/03-5084
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