Do nurse plant effects strengthen over time? Results from 12 years of desert habitat restoration

Plant Ecology
By: , and 



Nurse plant effects occur when benefactor perennials facilitate beneficiary plants below their canopies. Two poorly understood aspects of nurse plant ecology include whether facilitation strengthens as nurse plants mature and whether reestablishing perennials through ecological restoration at disturbed sites can trigger facilitation akin to in natural plant communities. We examined these uncertainties in a 12-year study by assessing plant communities below native perennials outplanted at disturbed sites and as compared with open interspaces and perennials in undisturbed sites in Joshua Tree National Park, Mojave Desert, USA. An overarching conclusion was that facilitation by outplants was intermittent. Results did not consistently support a hypothesis that facilitation strengthened as outplants matured, as the nuanced results hinged on beneficiary response metrics (cover or species richness), group of potential beneficiary species (e.g., native, non-native), and measurement year. There was, however, a general trend for beneficiary plant groups below outplants to shift through time. Non-native plant cover initially benefited when outplants were 1–9 years old, but this switched to native plants benefiting as outplants matured (9–12 years old). Facilitation was not strongest in dry years nor was nurse canopy cover usually strongly correlated with beneficiary metrics. An encouraging result for ecological restoration was that reestablishing native perennials appeared to disproportionately facilitate other native over non-native plants as restoration sites matured.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Do nurse plant effects strengthen over time? Results from 12 years of desert habitat restoration
Series title Plant Ecology
DOI 10.1007/s11258-023-01297-2
Volume 224
Year Published 2023
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Southwest Biological Science Center
Description 16 p.
First page 299
Last page 314
Country United States
State California
Other Geospatial Mojave Desert
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