Plant and Soil

, Volume 408, Issue 1–2, pp 31–41 | Cite as

Soil under nurse plants is always better than outside: a survey on soil amelioration by a complete guild of nurse plants across a long environmental gradient

  • M. A. K. Mihoč
  • L. Giménez-Benavides
  • D. S. Pescador
  • A. M. Sánchez
  • L. A. Cavieres
  • A. Escudero
Regular Article



Soil under nurse plants is more fertile than in the harsh surroundings. This is a primary mechanism involved in plant to plant facilitation and it is critical in structuring plant communities under stressful conditions. However we do not know how this soil enrichment process varies along complex environmental gradients and among coexisting nurse plants.


Soil properties related to structure, resource stocks and microbial activity, were compared among up to ten nurse plant species and adjacent barren soil areas, along a 1600 m elevation gradient above the treeline in central Chilean Andes. Shifts in Relative Interaction Index (RII) sensu Armas (Ecology 85: 2682–2686, 2004) and in coefficient of variation on soil properties were also modelled.


Soil under nurse plants was always richer than on barren areas irrespective of altitude, except in the case of texture with more small particles in the intermediate altitude. β-glucosidase activity was higher under cushion plants than under nurse plants with other growth habit. Besides β-glucosidase and phosphatase activities were more variable at higher altitudes. Nitrogen was more variable under nurse plants than in barren areas and its RII values were lower at intermediate altitudes.


Soil amelioration by nurse plants occurred all along the studied environmental gradient promoting islands of fertility and a general increase on soil niches heterogeneity.


Central Andes Fertility islands High mountain ecosystems Soil amelioration by nurse plants Soil enzymatic activity Soil nutrient content 



Relative Interaction Index


Particle Size Distribution


Electric Conductivity



This work was supported by the projects REMEDINAL-3CM (S2013/MAE-2719), ROOTS (CGL2015-66809-P), and we also thank F.T. Maestre for his support through the BIOCON06 ⁄ 105 project.

Supplementary material

11104_2016_2908_MOESM1_ESM.docx (325 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 92 kb)
11104_2016_2908_MOESM2_ESM.docx (52 kb)
ESM 2 (DOCX 125 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. A. K. Mihoč
    • 1
  • L. Giménez-Benavides
    • 2
  • D. S. Pescador
    • 2
  • A. M. Sánchez
    • 2
  • L. A. Cavieres
    • 1
    • 3
  • A. Escudero
    • 2
  1. 1.Instituto de Ecología y Biodiversidad (IEB)SantiagoChile
  2. 2.Área de Biodiversidad y ConservaciónUniversidad Rey Juan CarlosMóstolesEspaña
  3. 3.Departamento de Botánica, Facultad de Ciencias Naturales y OceanográficasUniversidad de ConcepciónConcepciónChile

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