Original Papers


, Volume 64, Issue 3, pp 319-321

First online:

Sahuaro-nurse tree associations in the Sonoran Desert: competitive effects of sahuaros

  • Joseph R. McAuliffeAffiliated withDepartment of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona

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In the Sonoran Desert, the sahuaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) is commonly associated with canopies of trees and shrubs: so-called nurse plants. Although mechanisms by which nurse plants facilitate sahuaro establishment have been studied, possible competitive interactions between sahuaro cacti and nurse plants have not been conclusively demonstrated. In this paper I show that the close proximity of sahuaros leads to a relative increase in stem die-back as well as greater mortality in a common nurse tree, the foothill paloverde (Cercidium microphyllum). This interaction appears to accelerate the local loss of individual nurse trees, resulting in a predictable pattern of species replacement.