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Title: Seedling establishment in a masting desert shrub parallels the pattern for forest trees

Author: Meyer, Susan E.; Pendleton, Burton K.;

Date: 2015

Source: Acta Oecologica. 65-66: 1-10.

Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Description: The masting phenomenon along with its accompanying suite of seedling adaptive traits has been well studied in forest trees but has rarely been examined in desert shrubs. Blackbrush (Coleogyne ramosissima) is a regionally dominant North American desert shrub whose seeds are produced in mast events and scatter-hoarded by rodents. We followed the fate of seedlings in intact stands vs. small-scale disturbances at four contrasting sites for nine growing seasons following emergence after a mast year. The primary cause of first-year mortality was post-emergence cache excavation and seedling predation, with contrasting impacts at sites with different heteromyid rodent seed predators. Long-term establishment patterns were strongly affected by rodent activity in the weeks following emergence. Survivorship curves generally showed decreased mortality risk with age but differed among sites even after the first year. There were no detectable effects of inter-annual precipitation variability or site climatic differences on survival. Intraspecific competition from conspecific adults had strong impacts on survival and growth, both of which were higher on small-scale disturbances, but similar in openings and under shrub crowns in intact stands. This suggests that adult plants preempted soil resources in the interspaces. Aside from effects on seedling predation, there was little evidence for facilitation or interference beneath adult plant crowns. Plants in intact stands were still small and clearly juvenile after nine years, showing that blackbrush forms cohorts of suppressed plants similar to the seedling banks of closed forests. Seedling banks function in the absence of a persistent seed bank in replacement after adult plant death (gap formation), which is temporally uncoupled from masting and associated recruitment events. This study demonstrates that the seedling establishment syndrome associated with masting has evolved in desert shrublands as well as in forests.

Keywords: Coleogyne ramosissima (blackbrush), heteromyid rodent, scatter-hoarding, seed dispersal, seed predation, seedling bank

Publication Notes:

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Meyer, Susan E.; Pendleton, Burton K. 2015. Seedling establishment in a masting desert shrub parallels the pattern for forest trees. Acta Oecologica. 65-66: 1-10.


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