Patterns of recruitment for Yucca brevifolia (Joshua tree) were investigated on 3 elevational transects, 1000–2000 m, in the Spring and Sheep Mountain ranges of southern Nevada. Yucca brevifolia is distributed throughout a broad range of plant communities dominated by Larrea tridentata and Ambrosia dumosa at low elevations, Coleogyne ramosissima at middle elevations, and an Artemisia-Pinus-Juniperus community at upper elevations. The density of Y. brevifolia gradually increased from the lowest elevations, peaked at 1600 m, and remained at intermediate levels at high elevations until reaching an abrupt upper elevational limit at 2000 m. Open substrate dominated the study areas; however, a large majority of Y. brevifolia seedlings were found growing under the canopy of other woody shrubs. This pattern of recruitment did not vary by site or elevation. Thirty-five species of perennial shrubs were identified in the study areas, 16 of which were found in association with at least 1 Y. brevifolia seedling. However, 4 shrubs were found in a nurse plant relationship with Y. brevifolia above the frequency predicted by either their canopy area or numerical dominance. Seedlings exhibited significant variation in aspect, relative to the center of the nurse shrub. In Lee and Lucky Strike canyons, recruitment occurred predominantly on the east and west sides of nurse shrubs, indicating the importance of specific microhabitats. Local presence of specific perennial shrubs resulted in higher levels of recruitment, causing a distinct pattern of community development, resumably through amelioration of abiotic stresses.
Brittingham, Steve and Walker, Lawrence R.
"Facilitation of Yucca brevifolia recruitment by Mojave Desert shrubs,"
Western North American Naturalist: Vol. 60
, Article 3.
Available at: http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/wnan/vol60/iss4/3