, Volume 105, Issue 4, pp 493-500

Influence of an overstorey tree (Prosopis glandulosa) on associated shrubs in a savanna parkland: implications for patch dynamics

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Abstract

The arborescent legume, honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), appears to play a central role in patch dynamics of southern Texas savannas by modifying soils and microclimate and by facilitating the ingress, establishment and/or growth of shrubs in its understorey. As an indirect test for the occurrence and persistence of facilitation in mature shrub clusters (patches), we examined the gas exchange, water relations and production of associated shrubs growing in patches where a Prosopis overstorey was present and in patches where Prosopis had succumbed to natural mortality. Surface (0–10 cm) soils associated with shrub patches were enriched in total [N] and [C] compared to soils of neighboring herbaceous zones. However, there were no detectable differences in soil [N] or [C] in patches with and without Prosopis. Foliar [N] and biomass of various shrub species were also statistically comparable for patches with and without Prosopis. These results are in accordance with other studies that indicate the nutrient legacy associated with Prosopis occupation of a patch may persist for decades after its demise. In comparison to plants growing in the absence of Prosopis, leaf water potentials (predawn and midday), and net photosynthesis and water vapor conductance (morning and midday) of outer-canopy sunlit leaves over an annual growth cycle were comparable for two common evergreen shrubs, Zanthoxylum fagara and Berberis trifoliolata, growing in patches with a live Prosopis. These findings indicate that the presence of Prosopis was not enhancing the growth or activity of mature understorey shrubs; facilitation may, therefore, be important only during early stages of cluster development. In addition, we found no indication that the loss of Prosopis has initiated a downward phase in a cyclic succession of patch initiation, growth and death. Rather, the understorey shrubs appear to be able to maintain growth and productivity in the absence of a Prosopis overstorey, and may, therefore, represent persistent components of woody patches on these savanna landscapes.