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Mechanisms for maintenance of dominance in a nonclonal desert shrub

Posted date: January 12, 2016
Publication Year: 
Publication Series: 
Scientific Journal (JRNL)
Source: Ecosphere. 6(12): Article 252.


Blackbrush (Coleogyne ramosissima: Rosaceae) is a slow-growing, non-clonal shrub that is regionally dominant on xeric, shallow soils in the North American Mojave Desert-Great Basin transition zone and southern Colorado Plateau. Blackbrush seed production is concentrated in mast years, and most seeds are cached and later consumed by heteromyid rodents. Vegetation histories show that blackbrush stands can persist apparently unchanged for over a century. We used dendrochronological techniques to examine plant age distributions, recruitment patterns and growth rates, to ascertain how blackbrush achieves this long-term population stability. Our study addressed the following questions: (1) What is the role of within-clump recruitment in long-term patterns of clump persistence? Do blackbrush clumps accrue new cohorts through time? (2) How does recruitment vary temporally, specifically in relation to years of mast seed production and climate variability? (3) What impact does intra-specific competition have on plant growth rates? To address these questions, we aged stems from 208 clumps in five Mojave Desert and four Colorado Plateau populations. Individual plant age estimates ranged from 3 to 122 years. Clumps comprised of multiple-aged cohorts were ubiquitous. Within clumps, plant and cohort number increased with clump age, suggesting a steady accumulation of new cohorts over time. Clumps in Colorado Plateau populations accumulated cohorts at a significantly faster rate than clumps in Mojave Desert populations. Recruitment occurred in relatively frequent pulses. It was only partially synchronized with mast years, with some seedling establishment following years of low seed production. Individuals that recruited into established clumps averaged half the radial growth rate of individuals that recruited into openings. Blackbrush recruitment is bimodal, with initial colonization of open spaces from rodent caches but with long-term clump persistence a product of periodic, within-clump recruitment of new plants. This dual recruitment strategy provides a mechanism for continued community dominance in an abiotically stressful environment under low levels of disturbance.


Kitchen, Stanley G.; Meyer, Susan E.; Carlson, Stephanie L. 2015. Mechanisms for maintenance of dominance in a nonclonal desert shrub. Ecosphere. 6(12): Article 252.