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Direct versus indirect facilitation (herbivore mediated) among woody plants in a semiarid Chaco forest: A spatial association approach
Abstract and Figures
In arid environments, direct facilitation (microhabitat amelioration) and indirect facilitation (“associational resistance” via protection from herbivory) among plants of different species may act simultaneously. Little is known about their relative effects. One way to disentangle the effects is by evaluating spatial associations. We examined the relative importance of these two mechanisms of facilitation in the semiarid Chaco vegetation of north-central Argentina, through an eight-way observational study in which we quantified the degree of spatial association between saplings of each of two key tree species, Schinopsis lorentzii (Anacardiaceae) and Aspidosperma quebracho-blanco (Apocynaceae), with shrub neighbours either possessing spines or without spines and in both an ungrazed site and a site with a long history of cattle grazing. We analysed data across 400 subparcels at each site with SADIE (Spatial Analysis by Distance Indices). Saplings of both tree species showed positive spatial associations with spiny shrubs in the grazed site but not in the ungrazed site, and never with non-spiny shrubs. This result suggests that spiny shrubs may indeed provide associational resistance (AR) for saplings of key tree species in grazed habitats in these dry subtropical forests, that is, that indirect facilitation may predominate over direct facilitation. If confirmed by experimental studies, this result can have implications for the silvopastoral management of rapidly expanding ranches in the semiarid Chaco, where current practice includes the near elimination of native shrubs.
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