Ontogenetic shifts in plant–plant interactions in a rare cycad within angiosperm communities
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- Álvarez-Yépiz, J.C., Búrquez, A. & Dovčiak, M. Oecologia (2014) 175: 725. doi:10.1007/s00442-014-2929-3
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Gymnosperms and angiosperms can co-occur within the same habitats but key plant traits are thought to give angiosperms an evolutionary competitive advantage in many ecological settings. We studied ontogenetic changes in competitive and facilitative interactions between a rare gymnosperm (Dioon sonorense, our target species) and different plant and abiotic neighbours (conspecific-cycads, heterospecific-angiosperms, or abiotic-rocks) from 2007 to 2010 in an arid environment of northwestern Mexico. We monitored survival and growth of seedlings, juveniles, and adults of the cycad Dioon sonorense to evaluate how cycad survival and relative height growth rate (RHGR) responded to intra- and interspecific competition, canopy openness, and nearest neighbour. We tested spatial associations among D. sonorense life stages and angiosperm species and measured ontogenetic shifts in cycad shade tolerance. Canopy openness decreased cycad survival while intraspecific competition decreased survival and RHGR during early ontogeny. Seedling survival was higher in association with rocks and heterospecific neighbours where intraspecific competition was lower. Shade tolerance decreased with cycad ontogeny reflecting the spatial association of advanced stages with more open canopies. Interspecific facilitation during early ontogeny of our target species may promote its persistence in spite of increasing interspecific competition in later stages. We provide empirical support to the long-standing assumption that marginal rocky habitats serve as refugia from angiosperm competition for slow-growing gymnosperms such as cycads. The lack of knowledge of plant–plant interactions in rare or endangered species may hinder developing efficient conservation strategies (e.g. managing for sustained canopy cover), especially under the ongoing land use and climatic changes.