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Cushion plants can have a positive effect on diversity at high elevations in the Himalayan Hengduan Mountains


Chen, Jianguo; Schöb, Christian; Zhou, Zhuo; Gong, Qiangbang; Li, Xinhui; Yang, Yang; Li, Zhimin; Sun, Hang (2015). Cushion plants can have a positive effect on diversity at high elevations in the Himalayan Hengduan Mountains. Journal of Vegetation Science, 26(4):768-777.

Abstract

Questions What is the community-level consequence of biotic processes, in particular the importance of facilitation, in determining patterns of diversity in alpine plant communities of the Himalayan Hengduan Mountains? Does facilitation intensity change with environmental severity, and are these changes due to environmental severity or nurse trait effects? Location Eleven alpine plant communities dominated by cushion plants in the Himalayan Hengduan Mountains, within the mountain system of south-central China. Methods We determined plant species richness and abundance in habitats created by cushions and cushion-free areas, and assessed the cushion effects on species richness and abundance with rarefaction curves and the relative interaction index, respectively. We examined the relationship between cushion effects on diversity and habitat severity and tested if changes in the net cushion effects along the severity gradient were due to a change in the performance of species without cushions (environmental severity effect) and/or with cushions (nurse trait-mediated effect). Results The presence of cushion plants increased species richness and abundance in most studied plant communities. The net facilitation effect of cushions increased with increasing habitat severity, an effect that could be attributed mainly to a reduction in species richness in cushion-free areas with increasing severity. However, the changes in magnitude of facilitation of particular cushion species growing in high and low severity habitats could be attributed to both environmental severity and neighbour trait effects. Despite the overall positive effect of cushion plants on plant species richness, not all cushion species contributed to higher species richness. The deviation of individual cushion species from the general pattern of increasing facilitation with increasing severity indicated the species specificity of facilitation depends on the traits of nurse species. Conclusion The presence of cushion plants generally increased species richness in alpine plant communities of the Himalayan Hengduan Mountains, with the importance of the cushion effect increasing with habitat severity due to a buffering effect by cushions of the negative effect of habitat severity on species richness observed in cushion-free areas. This indicates the pivotal role of facilitative interactions among plant species in supporting high diversity in these severe environments.

Abstract

Questions What is the community-level consequence of biotic processes, in particular the importance of facilitation, in determining patterns of diversity in alpine plant communities of the Himalayan Hengduan Mountains? Does facilitation intensity change with environmental severity, and are these changes due to environmental severity or nurse trait effects? Location Eleven alpine plant communities dominated by cushion plants in the Himalayan Hengduan Mountains, within the mountain system of south-central China. Methods We determined plant species richness and abundance in habitats created by cushions and cushion-free areas, and assessed the cushion effects on species richness and abundance with rarefaction curves and the relative interaction index, respectively. We examined the relationship between cushion effects on diversity and habitat severity and tested if changes in the net cushion effects along the severity gradient were due to a change in the performance of species without cushions (environmental severity effect) and/or with cushions (nurse trait-mediated effect). Results The presence of cushion plants increased species richness and abundance in most studied plant communities. The net facilitation effect of cushions increased with increasing habitat severity, an effect that could be attributed mainly to a reduction in species richness in cushion-free areas with increasing severity. However, the changes in magnitude of facilitation of particular cushion species growing in high and low severity habitats could be attributed to both environmental severity and neighbour trait effects. Despite the overall positive effect of cushion plants on plant species richness, not all cushion species contributed to higher species richness. The deviation of individual cushion species from the general pattern of increasing facilitation with increasing severity indicated the species specificity of facilitation depends on the traits of nurse species. Conclusion The presence of cushion plants generally increased species richness in alpine plant communities of the Himalayan Hengduan Mountains, with the importance of the cushion effect increasing with habitat severity due to a buffering effect by cushions of the negative effect of habitat severity on species richness observed in cushion-free areas. This indicates the pivotal role of facilitative interactions among plant species in supporting high diversity in these severe environments.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
590 Animals (Zoology)
Language:English
Date:July 2015
Deposited On:05 Jan 2016 13:00
Last Modified:01 Aug 2016 00:01
Publisher:Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Inc.
ISSN:1100-9233
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1111/jvs.12275

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