Contrasting nurse plants and nurse rocks: The spatial distribution of seedlings of two sub-Antarctic species
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Positive plant interactions, such as those associated with nurse plants, have been suggested to dominate over negative interactions in environments with high abiotic stress. Here we demonstrate that the sub- Antarctic cushion plant species, Azorella selago (Apiaceae), positively affects the distribution of both its own seedlings and those of the perennial grass, Agrostis magellanica (Poaceae). As a result of the light weight and small size of seeds of both species, coupled with strong winds experienced in the study area, we consider it unlikely that these patterns are the result of very localized seed dispersal from the study cushions themselves. Instead, we suggest that both cushions and rocks act as seed traps, trapping seeds dispersed by wind, runoff and/or downslope sediment transport through frost creep. In addition, increased A. selago seedling numbers around cushions, but not around rocks, suggest that cushions provide a biological nurse effect, such as improving soil nutrient status or providing mychorrizae, to seedlings of their own kind.
- RESEARCH: McGeoch M