Belowground competition for nutrients in shrub-encroached Mediterranean dehesas

  • David Rivest
  • Víctor Rolo
  • M. Lourdes López-Díaz
  • Gerardo Moreno


Managing multilayered silvopastoral systems such as Mediterranean dehesas requires the study of nutrient resource partitioning among coexisting species and determination to what extent soil nutrients are limiting plant growth. We determined the effects of NPK fertilisation maintained over two consecutive years on dry matter production and nutritional status of pasture (herbaceous) species, two shrub species and Quercus ilex L. in two silvopastoral sites with different shrub-layer species. We selected two prominent Mediterranean shrub species that vary in their specific ecological strategies: a N2-fixing and sparse deep-rooting shrub (Retama sphaerocarpa (L.) Boiss, Retama site), and a dense shallow-rooting shrub (Cistus ladanifer L., Cistus site). Fertilisation significantly (P ≤ 0.05) increased pasture dry mass by 460% and 1,090% in the Retama and Cistus sites, respectively. Nitrogen uptake by pasture species was most stimulated in both sites, and was the major limiting nutrient for this group. At the Cistus site, fertilisation significantly increased leaf dry mass of Q. ilex by 53%, but no significant effect was found at the Retama site. There were no significant effects of fertilisation treatments on dry mass and nutrient status of Retama cladodes and Cistus leaves. Vector analysis revealed that the magnitude of relative changes in nutrient uptake and dry matter production of pasture in response to fertilisation was markedly higher than that of Q. ilex, R. sphaerocarpa and C. ladanifer, suggesting high competitive ability of pasture species for soil nutrients. Results suggest that patterns of soil nutrient partitioning are site-specific and, thus, likely depend on the dominant species in the shrub layer.


Cistus ladanifer Dry matter production Native pasture Nutrient uptake Quercus ilex Retama sphaerocarpa Silvopastoral systems 



The project was supported financially by the Spanish Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación (project MODE, AGL2006-09435/FOR) and the plan regional de Investigación de la Junta de Extremadura (III PRI+D+I, PRI07C044). David Rivest was awarded a postdoctoral research grant from the Fonds québécois de recherche sur la nature et les technologies (FQRNT). Víctor Rolo was supported by a doctoral grant funded by the Regional Government of Extremadura and the Fondo Social Europeo. We thank Antonio Garcia for technical assistance, and William F.J. Parsons and Miren Lorente for improving the language of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Rivest
    • 1
    • 2
  • Víctor Rolo
    • 1
  • M. Lourdes López-Díaz
    • 1
  • Gerardo Moreno
    • 1
  1. 1.Forestry SchoolUniversidad de ExtremaduraPlasenciaSpain
  2. 2.Département des sciences du bois et de la forêtUniversité LavalSainte-FoyCanada

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