In a mixed desert shrub community we removed and added shrub canopies to examine above- and belowground influences of 3 species of shrubs on islands of soil fertility and the survival of transplanted Ambrosia dumosa seedlings. Soils sampled under shrubs in the wet season had higher pH, water content, organic matter, and both total and mineralizable nitrogen than soils in adjacent open areas, confirming a widely established pattern in arid lands. However, we also found species differences in soil parameters. Soils under Coleogyne ramosissima had highest pH, soils under A. dumosa had highest water content and nitrogen mineralization rates, and soils under Larrea tridentata had lowest water content. Soils sampled under shrubs in the dry season, 7 months after experimental shrub removal, maintained higher organic matter and total and mineralizable nitrogen content than adjacent open soils, but pH and water were altered by shrub manipulations. Species differences persisted only in soil water levels (A. dumosa soils were driest). Over a 1-year period, transplanted A. dumosa seedlings had highest survivorship in shrub removal and open treatments and died most rapidly under control shrubs of all 3 species, suggesting that shrubs had a strong negative effect on seedling survival, even in the presence of higher organic matter, nutrients, and (initially) higher water content of fertile islands. Our results suggest that nurse plants and islands of soil fertility have the potential to facilitate growth of other species by nutrient additions, but that the net effect of nurse plants can be negative due to shading and/or root competition.
Walker, Lawrence R.; Thompson, Daniel B.; and Landau, Fredrick H.
"Experimental manipulations of fertile islands and nurse plant effects in the Mojave Desert, USA,"
Western North American Naturalist: Vol. 61
, Article 4.
Available at: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/wnan/vol61/iss1/4