Do biotic interactions modulate ecosystem functioning along stress gradients? Insights from semi-arid plant and biological soil crust communities

Fernando T. Maestre, Matthew A. Bowker, Cristina Escolar, María D. Puche, Santiago Soliveres, Sara Maltez-Mouro, Pablo García-Palacios, Andrea P. Castillo-Monroy, Isabel Martínez, Adrián Escudero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

86 Scopus citations

Abstract

Climate change will exacerbate the degree of abiotic stress experienced by semi-arid ecosystems. While abiotic stress profoundly affects biotic interactions, their potential role as modulators of ecosystem responses to climate change is largely unknown. Using plants and biological soil crusts, we tested the relative importance of facilitative-competitive interactions and other community attributes (cover, species richness and species evenness) as drivers of ecosystem functioning along stress gradients in semi-arid Mediterranean ecosystems. Biotic interactions shifted from facilitation to competition along stress gradients driven by water availability and temperature. These changes were, however, dependent on the spatial scale and the community considered. We found little evidence to suggest that biotic interactions are a major direct influence upon indicators of ecosystem functioning (soil respiration, organic carbon, water-holding capacity, compaction and the activity of enzymes related to the carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles) along stress gradients. However, attributes such as cover and species richness showed a direct effect on ecosystem functioning. Our results do not agree with predictions emphasizing that the importance of plant-plant interactions will be increased under climate change in dry environments, and indicate that reductions in the cover of plant and biological soil crust communities will negatively impact ecosystems under future climatic conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2057-2070
Number of pages14
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume365
Issue number1549
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 12 2010
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Biotic interactions
  • Climate change
  • Competition
  • Facilitation
  • Mediterranean

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

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    Maestre, F. T., Bowker, M. A., Escolar, C., Puche, M. D., Soliveres, S., Maltez-Mouro, S., García-Palacios, P., Castillo-Monroy, A. P., Martínez, I., & Escudero, A. (2010). Do biotic interactions modulate ecosystem functioning along stress gradients? Insights from semi-arid plant and biological soil crust communities. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 365(1549), 2057-2070. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2010.0016