Allelopathic potential of the neotropical dry-forest tree Acacia pennatula Benth.: inhibition of seedling establishment exceeds facilitation under tree canopies
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Secondary succession after land abandonment in tropical dry forests has been suggested to be favoured by the facilitation effects for seedling establishment exerted by pioneer trees isolated in these savannah-like landscapes. However, it has also been noticed that these pioneer species may sometimes have an encroaching effect and arrest succession for several decades. We investigated in this study whether allelopathy can play a role in limiting seedling establishment of co-occurring tree species under the canopy of Acacia pennatula by means of lab bioassays and field experiments in north-west Nicaragua. Leaf extracts of A. pennatula did not affect seed germination but reduced the general growth and especially the development of the root compartment in seedlings, shifting their biomass allocation model to a reduced root/shoot ratio. Survival of planted seedlings under the canopy of A. pennatula was about 20–30% lower than outside, and this reduction was particularly pronounced as the dry season progressed, despite the milder conditions (e.g. higher soil moisture) being experienced in the inner positions under the canopy. Altogether, our results suggest that, rather than facilitating, A. pennatula may inhibit the establishment of seedlings under its canopy probably by means of an allelopathic interference in the development of the root system with critical negative consequences for young seedlings in terms of overcoming the dry season. This article warns about overemphasizing the nucleation effect that remnant and isolated trees may have to facilitate secondary succession in these highly disturbed savannah-like tropical dry forests.
KeywordsAcacia Arrested succession Facilitation Mesoamerica Secondary forest Tropical dry forest
The authors wish to thank Jasser Antonio Obando Arteaga for his valuable field and lab assistance, and the two anonymous reviewers for their providing valuable comments. This study was funded by the project D/026276/09 of the Spanish Agency for International Development and Cooperation (AECID). G.P. is supported by a FI Grant from the Generalitat de Catalunya.
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