Facilitation of vascular plants by cushion mosses in high-Andean communities
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Mosses are a dominant ground cover in a wide array of ecosystems, especially in those developing under cold-stressed environments such as arctic and alpine ice-melting glacial forelands. Consequently, mosses may influence the performance and distribution of other plants. Here, we assessed the nature of interactions between vascular plants and cushion-forming mosses in three alpine communities in the northern Patagonian Andes. We recorded species richness, plant abundance and cover of vascular plants within and outside moss cushions, measuring also patch area and moss layer depth. To determine the effect of mosses on vascular plant assemblages, we calculated the relative interaction index (RII) in terms of richness, abundance and cover of all vascular plants, and of individual species. Moss-cushion patches showed higher species richness, plant abundance and cover in comparison with bare ground areas. Overall, the diversity of vascular plants increased with both moss-cushion area and layer depth. Species-specific RII values revealed that the effects of moss cushions on neighboring vascular plants were predominantly positive for all three plant communities surveyed. These results highlight the role of mosses as nurse plants in alpine ice-melting glacial forelands and, thus, as ecosystem engineers that can be key in maintaining vascular plant diversity.
KeywordsFacilitation Plant–moss interactions Cushions Bryophytes Alpine Southern Andes
The authors thank two anonymous reviewers and A. Sáez for useful comments and suggestions. We are grateful to the Administración de Parques Nacionales, Argentina, which provided permission to work at the study sites. This research was supported by the National Research Council of Argentina (CONICET) doctoral scholarship to S.S.G. G.M.S, C.E. and M.A.A are career researchers of CONICET.
SSG and MAA conceived the study. SSG collected field data. GMS identified the bryophytes. CE contributed materials and taxonomy expertise. SSG performed the analyses and wrote the first draft of the manuscript. All authors assisted with the writing of the manuscript and provided comments and edits.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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