Journal Article

The interplay of stress and mowing disturbance for the intensity and importance of plant interactions in dry calcareous grasslands

Jean-Paul Maalouf, Yoann Le Bagousse-Pinguet, Lilian Marchand, Blaise Touzard and Richard Michalet

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 110, issue 4, pages 821-828
Published in print September 2012 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online July 2012 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcs152
The interplay of stress and mowing disturbance for the intensity and importance of plant interactions in dry calcareous grasslands

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry

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Background and Aims

There is still debate regarding the direction and strength of plant interactions under intermediate to high levels of stress. Furthermore, little is known on how disturbance may interact with physical stress in unproductive environments, although recent theory and models have shown that this interplay may induce a collapse of plant interactions and diversity. The few studies assessing such questions have considered the intensity of biotic interactions but not their importance, although this latter concept has been shown to be very useful for understanding the role of interactions in plant communities. The objective of this study was to assess the interplay between stress and disturbance for plant interactions in dry calcareous grasslands.

Methods

A field experiment was set up in the Dordogne, southern France, where the importance and intensity of biotic interactions undergone by four species were measured along a water stress gradient, and with and without mowing disturbance.

Key Results

The importance and intensity of interactions varied in a very similar way along treatments. Under undisturbed conditions, plant interactions switched from competition to neutral with increasing water stress for three of the four species, whereas the fourth species was not subject to any significant biotic interaction along the gradient. Responses to disturbance were more species-specific; for two species, competition disappeared with mowing in the wettest conditions, whereas for the two other species, competition switched to facilitation with mowing. Finally, there were no significant interactions for any species in the disturbed and driest conditions.

Conclusions

At very high levels of stress, plant performances become too weak to allow either competition or facilitation and disturbance may accelerate the collapse of interactions in dry conditions. The results suggest that the importance and direction of interactions are more likely to be positively related in stressful environments.

Keywords: Competition; facilitation; stress; disturbance; biotic interactions; unproductive environments; Teucrium chamaedrys; Koeleria vallesiana; Thymus serpyllum; Seseli montanum

Journal Article.  5775 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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