Mutual positive effects between shrubs in an arid ecosystem
One-way facilitation in plants has been found in many harsh environments and their role as structural forces governing species composition in plant communities is now well established. However, reciprocal positive effects benefiting two interacting species have seldom been reported and, in recent reviews, conceptually considered merely as facilitation when in fact there is room for adaptive strategies and evolutionary responses. We tested the existence of such reciprocal positive effects in an arid environment in SE Spain using spatial pattern analysis, a species removal experiment, and a natural experiment. We found that the spatial association between Maytenus senegalensis and Whitania frutescens, two shrub species of roughly similar size intimately interacting in our community, resulted in mutual benefit for both species. Benefits included improved water relations and nutritional status and protection against browsing, and did occur despite simultaneous competition for resources. Our data suggest two-way facilitation or, rather, a facultative mutualism among higher plant species, a process often overlooked which could be a main driver of plant community dynamics allowing for evolutionary processes.
Published version. Source at http://doi.org/10.1038/srep14710.