Spatial heterogeneity has been examined only recently as a factor in studies of ecosystem processes. The effect of this factor on desert organisms is exemplified in the "fertile island" a concentration of essential soil nutrients under perennial shrubs. In this study we examined fertile island patterns in undisturbed desert areas and on abandoned roadways to see at what rate and magnitude these fertile patches reappeared after disturbance. Small-scale examination of patterns of soil P, organic matter, moisture, and bulk density showed that soils beneath Larrea tridentata (DC.) Cov. shrubs on the roads lacked the tight circular gradient in these variables that was characteristic of soils beneath control shrubs, even 88 years after road abandonment. The nature of the initial soil disturbance altered both spatial patterns of soil N and temporal patterns of fertile island development. Fertile island patterns for total soil N, available P, and organic matter were more circular than patterns for bulk density, texture, or pH. We suggest that patterns of soil heterogeneity may develop first for elements that may be limiting to desert shrub growth (N, P, organic matter), followed by spatial development in other less limiting soil factors (bulk density, texture, pH).
Bolling, John D. and Walker, Lawrence R.
"Fertile island development around perennial shrubs across a Mojave Desert chronosequence,"
Western North American Naturalist: Vol. 62
, Article 10.
Available at: http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/wnan/vol62/iss1/10