Co-occurrence patterns along a regional aridity gradient of the subtropical Andes do not support stress gradient hypotheses.

PloS one

PubMedID: 23505527

López RP, Valdivia S, Rivera ML, Rios RS. Co-occurrence patterns along a regional aridity gradient of the subtropical Andes do not support stress gradient hypotheses. PLoS ONE. 2013;8(3):e58518.
The stress gradient hypothesis posits that facilitation and stress are positively correlated. The hump-shaped hypothesis, on the contrary, proposes that facilitation is greater at intermediate stress levels. The relationship between facilitation and environmental stress is commonly studied at small spatial scales and/or considering few species; thus, the implications of facilitation at a community level remain poorly understood. Here, we analyzed local co-occurrence patterns of all plant species at 25 sites within the subtropical Andes to evaluate the role of facilitation and competition as drivers of community structure. We considered a wide latitudinal gradient (19-26°S) that incorporates great variation in aridity. No previous studies have attempted to study these patterns across such a broad scale in warm deserts. Each locality was sampled at two scales (quadrat and patch), and co-occurrence was analyzed via null models. Furthermore, we tested for a relationship between plant co-occurrences and environmental aridity. Resulting patterns depended on life form. When all species were considered, negative associations were found, indicating competition. Woody/cactus life forms tended to be associated across communities, suggesting that there is facilitation between these life forms. Additionally, and unlike previous studies, we found positive associations among shrubs. The strength of the association between woody species changed non-monotonically with aridity. Herbs showed an inverted hump-shaped relationship, albeit ranging mostly among neutral values. Independent of the association type exhibited by different life forms, our community level results do not support current stress gradient hypotheses.