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Ecology. 2008 Jun;89(6):1532-40.

Season- and herbivore-dependent competition and facilitation in a semiarid savanna.

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Department of Plant Sciences, University of California, Davis, California 95616, USA.


Empirical and theoretical evidence suggests that facilitation between plants, when it occurs, is more likely during periods of abiotic stress, while competition predominates under more moderate conditions. Therefore, one might expect the relative importance of competition vs. facilitation to vary seasonally in ecosystems characterized by pronounced dry (abiotically stressful) and wet (benign) seasons. Herbivory also varies seasonally and can affect the net outcome of plant-plant interactions, but the interactive effects of seasonality and herbivory on the competition-facilitation balance are not known. I experimentally manipulated neighboring plants and herbivory during wet and dry periods for two species of grass: Cynodon plectostachyus and Pennisetum stramineum, in the semiarid Laikipia District of Kenya. These experiments indicate that Pennisetum was competitively dominant during the wet season and that it responded negatively to grazing, especially during the dry season. Cynodon showed more complex season- and herbivore-dependent responses. Cynodon experienced facilitation that was simultaneously dependent on presence of herbivores and on dry season. During the wet season Cynodon experienced net competition. These results illustrate how herbivory and seasonality can interact in complex ways to shift species-species competition-facilitation balance. Additionally, because Cynodon and Pennisetum are key players in a local successional process, these results indicate that herbivory can affect the direction and pace of succession.

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