Nucleation and facilitation in salt pans in Mediterranean salt marshes

Rubio Casal, A.E.; Castillo, J.M.; Luque, C.J.; Figueroa, M.E.

Journal of Vegetation Science 12(6): 761-770


ISSN/ISBN: 1100-9233
DOI: 10.2307/3236863
Accession: 003864495

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Arthrocnemum macrostachyum is a perennial species acting as a primary colonizer of salt pans in Mediterranean high salt marshes. Salicornia ramosissima, an annual, occurs in salt pans under Arthrocnemum canopies and in open areas. The aim of this study, conducted in Spain, was to analyse, in wild populations and a transplant experiment, how S. ramosissima population dynamics and growth are affected by A. macrostachyum. The environmental conditions within the patches of Arthrocnemum were less stressful than in the open areas, with lower radiation levels and salinity concentrations. In the inner areas of A. macrostachyum patches, density-dependent mortality processes of S. ramosissima seedlings led to low densities of adult individuals with greater morphological development and reproductive success than in open areas. However, at the edges of Arthrocnemum patches facilitation of seedling survival favoured high densities. Environmental stress hindered development, decreased reproduction and premature death. These results are in agreement with the general theory of factors controlling vegetation distribution that biotic interactions dominate in low stress environments, while abiotic interactions dominate under harsher environmental conditions. A. macrostachyum plays an essential role in the succession in these salt pans, facilitating seed production and stimulating nucleation processes in S. ramosissima.