Intra-specific facilitation promotes the recruitment of a desert shrub

The southern limit of the Atacama Desert. Here Myrcianthes coquimbensis plants frequently grow associated with rocks. Seedlings, which are very rare throughout the entire distribution of the species, are found exclusively in rock cavities or under the canopy of adult conspecifics. (Image credit: Loayza et al.)

In stressful environments, nurse elements, such as shrubs or rocks, facilitate plant recruitment by providing less severe environments for seed germination and seedling survival. As seedlings develop, however, they may compete for resources with their nurse when it is a plant instead of a rock. In a recent study published in AoB PLANTS, Loayza et al. examined the role of conspecific plants and rocks as nurses of an endangered Atacama-Desert shrub, Myrcianthes coquimbensis (Myrtaceae). Establishment was highest under conspecific plants, revealing that in stressful environments plants can facilitate establishment of their own species. Their study contrasts with findings from other environments where recruitment was lowest near plants of the same species.

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