Spatial pattern analysis in Namaqualand desert plant communities: Evidence for general positive interactions

Eccles N.S. ; Esler K.J. ; Cowling R.M. (1999)


This paper investigates of the spatial arrangement of individual plants in mapped plots in two desert communities in the winter rainfall region of South Africa. In both communities there was a very strong tendency towards clumped patterns when all plants were considered together. There was also a predominance of clumped patterns when the most abundant species in both communities were considered individually. When the arrangement of the most abundant species was considered relative to the arrangement of all other individuals at the within-clump scale, there was a high frequency of positive associations in both communities (62% and 65%). We speculate that these patterns represent a combination of seed dispersal strategies that favour clumped patterns and a predominance of positive interactions between plants in both of the communities. When specific pairwise associations between the most abundant species were considered at the within-clump scale, differences were apparent between the two communities. In the short strandveld community neutral associations predominated, while in the medium strandveld, neutral and positive association accounted for equal proportions of the associations. This between-plot difference was also apparent when the volumes of plants were related to an index of neighbourhood competitiveness. In the short strandveld there were no significant relationships while in the medium strandveld there were some weak (but significant) relationships. These differences were not altogether unexpected. If we assume that plants in the medium strandveld are generally longer-lived, then interactions between plants are likely to develop over a longer time and, therefore, are likely to be stronger.

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