Abiotic conditions, neighbour interactions, and the distribution of Stipa tenacissima in a semiarid mountain range
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AbstractAbiotic conditions and interactions among plants are important factors determining plant geographical distributions. With the aim of analyzing the distribution of a perennial grass species in a semiarid mountain range, we experimentally tested above- and belowground effects of shrubs on the grass along a gradient of aridity. We measured growth, physiology and reproductive output of Stipa tenacissima tussocks surrounded by intact or manipulated neighbour shrubs. Performance of Stipa improved under mesic conditions, but the net effect of shrubs on Stipa did not change along the gradient. Belowground, we did not find significant effects, suggesting belowground resource partitioning between tussocks and shrubs. Aboveground net effects of shrubs on Stipa were generally positive and independent from abiotic conditions. The improved performance of Stipa at the mesic end of gradient suggests that its absolute physiological optimum lies out of its realized range. Overall, the arid end of the geographical distribution of Stipa in this mountain range may be determined by environmental severity. The coincidence of the upper limit of Stipa with the lower tree limit suggests that the more mesic end of Stipa distribution may depend on other factors; most likely competition with trees, which, unlike shrubs, could be excluding Stipa tenacissima from forests.

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