Plant Ecology

, 201:575 | Cite as

Rock-colonizing plants: abundance of the endemic cactus Mammillaria fraileana related to rock type in the southern Sonoran Desert

  • Blanca R. Lopez
  • Yoav BashanEmail author
  • Macario Bacilio
  • Gustavo De la Cruz-Agüero


Establishment, colonization, and permanence of plants affect biogenic and physical processes leading to development of soil. Rockiness, temperature, and humidity are accepted explanations to the influence and the presence of rock-dwelling plants, but the relationship between mineral and chemical composition of rocks with plant abundance is unknown in some regions. This study documents plant species growing on rocks, their capacity as rock colonizers measured by the Importance Index, and the relationships between the chemical composition of rocks and the abundance of the dominant plant. The community is composed of eight species and is dominated by the small cactus Mammillaria fraileana. Sites with low abundance of this species contain volcanic breccias, high amounts Ca, Fe, Mg, Ti, Al, and Mn as part of moderately weatherable minerals, such as plagioclase and pyroxene. Sites with higher abundance contain rhyodacite, rhyolite, and andesite rocks rich in more weatherable minerals, such as volcanic glass and minerals containing Si, K, and Na. K and Na were present in equal proportions only at the site with more plants. Since Na is toxic for most plants, an experiment was carried out to assess its effect on the survival of M. fraileana seedlings. Decreased survival occurred as the concentration of Na increased. Even in the treatment without Na, survival decreased slightly. In summary, presence and abundance of plants is related to the type of bedrock, their weathering characteristics, and proportion of elements. The interactions among elements, rather than the isolated effect of specific elements, could be the most reliable explanation for local variations in the abundance and dominance of Mammillaria fraileana in rocky habitat in the southern Sonoran Desert.


Cactus nutrition Colonization Rock weathering Saxicolous desert plants 



Esther Puente, Bernardo Salazar, Rocio Villalpando, and Alfonso Medel at CIBNOR assisted with sampling in the field. Mineralogical analyses were performed by Zsuzsanna Balogh at Washington State University. Jose-Luis Leon de la Luz at CIBNOR provided botanical information, Ching-Yan Li and Bernard Bormann at USDA Forest Service in Corvallis, Oregon provided helpful suggestions, and Clara Tinoco at the Instituto de Ecologia-Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico in Hermosillo, Mexico, provided suggestions on ecological analysis. This study was mainly supported by Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnologia of Mexico (CONACYT) and partly by The Bashan Foundation, USA. Yoav Bashan participated in this study in memory of the late Avner Bashan of Israel. B.L received a fellowship grant from CONACYT. G.D.l.C.A is a COFAA and EDI fellow at the Instituto Politecnico Nacional. The experiments, measurements, and observations comply with current laws of Mexico.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Blanca R. Lopez
    • 1
  • Yoav Bashan
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Macario Bacilio
    • 1
  • Gustavo De la Cruz-Agüero
    • 3
  1. 1.Environmental Microbiology GroupNorthwestern Center for Biological Research (CIBNOR)La PazMexico
  2. 2.Department of Soil, Water and Environmental ScienceUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  3. 3.Centro Interdisciplinario de Ciencias Marinas (CICIMAR-IPN)La PazMexico

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