Balance of competitive and facilitative effects of exotic trees on a native Patagonian grass
Fernandez, M.E.; Gyenge, J.E.; Schlichter, T.M.
Plant Ecology 188(1): 67-76
The balance between facilitation and competition in plants changes with species characteristics and environmental conditions. Facilitative effects are common in natural ecosystems, particularly in stressful environments or years. Contrarily, in artificial associations of plants, such as agroforestry systems, some authors have suggested that even when facilitative effects may occur, net balance of tree effects on grasses is usually negative, particularly in dry environments. The aim of this study was to determine the net effect of the exotic ponderosa pine on the native grass Festuca pallescens (St. Ives) Parodi in agroforestry systems in Patagonia. Soil water content, plant water status, and relative growth were measured in the grass growing in different treatments (determined by tree cover level) during two growing seasons with contrasting climatic conditions. Facilitative effects of trees over grass water status were recorded only when water availability was high. A net negative effect was detected on dates when soil water content was very low and evaporative demand was high. The strength of these negative effects depended on tree density and climatic conditions, being higher in treatments with lower tree canopy cover. These results indicate that the positive effect of trees could only be expected under relatively low stress conditions. However, relative growth of grasses was always similar in plants growing in forested plots than in open grassland. Differences in biomass allocation for grasses growing in shade and open habitats may reconcile these contrary results. Our results highlight the importance of the physiology of a species (relative drought and shade tolerance) in determining the response of a plant to a particular interacting species.