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Benefits of using shrubs as nurse plants for reforestation in Mediterranean mountains: a 4-year study

AuthorsCastro Gutiérrez, Jorge; Zamora Rodríguez, Regino; Hódar, José Antonio; Gómez Reyes, José M.; Gómez Aparicio, Lorena
Mediterranean ecosystems
Nurse plants
Issue DateAug-2004
PublisherBlackwell Publishing
CitationRestoration Ecology 12 (3): 352-358 (2004)
AbstractShrubs are commonly considered competitors of planted seedlings in reforestation programs. However, shrubs can facilitate the establishment of understory seedlings in environments that, like Mediterranean-type ecosystems, are characterized by harsh environmental conditions. In 1997, an experiment was set up in the Sierra Nevada mountains (SE Spain) to test the use of shrubs as nurse plants for an alternative reforestation technique. Two-year-old seedlings of Pinus sylvestris and P. nigra were planted in four microhabitats: 1) open interspaces without vegetation (which is the usual method employed in reforestation programs), 2) under individuals of the shrub Salvia lavandulifolia, 3) under the north side of spiny shrubs and 4) under the south side of spiny shrubs. Seedlings were also distributed in plots with and without access for ungulates in order to test the effect of herbivore damage. We report here the results of survival and growth after four growing seasons, a time span long enough to draw robust conclusions concerning the suitability of this technique. Pine survival was remarkably higher when planted under individuals of Salvia lavandulifolia as compared to open areas (2.6 times for P. sylvestris, 1.8 for P. nigra). The survival of both pine species was also higher when planted on the north side of spiny shrubs, while mortality on the south side was similar to that found in open areas. The reduction of solar radiation by the canopy of shrubs was likely the main factor determining shrub facilitation. The growth of the pines differed among years. However, growth was not inhibited when planted in association with shrubs as compared to open areas in any of the years. Herbivore damage was low, but was mostly concentrated in the leader shoot, exacerbating the deleterious effect of ungulate herbivores on pine growth. We conclude that the use of shrubs as nurse plants for reforestation is a viable technique to increase establishment success of reforestation in Mediterranean-type ecosystems, and might be similarly useful in other waterstressed environments. In addition, this technique offers the advantage of following natural succession, thus minimizing the impact in the community.
Description7 pages, 3 figures, 50 references. We thank the Consejería de Medio Ambiente, Junta de Andalucía, for constant support and facilities. We are also especially grateful to the Direction of the National Park for permission to work in Sierra Nevada and to Empresa de Transformación Agraria S.A. (TRAGSA) for carrying out the experimental reforestation. Daniel García kindly helped in the fieldwork, and two anonymous reviewers provided helpful comments that improved the manuscript. David Nesbitt provided linguistic advice.
Publisher version (URL)doi/10.1111/j.1061-2971.2004.0316.x/pdf
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