Evidence for scale-dependent root-augmentation feedback and its role in halting the spread of a pantropical shrub into an endemic sedge

Jamie J.R. Bennett, Anabele S. Gomes, Michel A. Ferré, Bidesh K. Bera, Fabian Borghetti, Ragan M. Callaway, Ehud Meron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Vegetation pattern formation is a widespread phenomenon in resource-limited environments, but the driving mechanisms are largely unconfirmed empirically. Combining results of field studies and mathematical modeling, empirical evidence for a generic pattern-formation mechanism is demonstrated with the clonal shrub Guilandina bonduc L. (hereafter Guilandina) on the Brazilian island of Trindade. The mechanism is associated with water conduction by laterally spread roots and root augmentation as the shoot grows—a crucial element in the positive feedback loop that drives spatial patterning. Assuming precipitation-dependent root–shoot relations, the model accounts for the major vegetation landscapes on Trindade Island, substantiating lateral root augmentation as the driving mechanism of Guilandina patterning. Guilandina expands into surrounding communities dominated by the Trindade endemic, Cyperus atlanticus Hemsl. (hereafter Cyperus). It appears to do so by decreasing the water potential in soils below Cyperus through its dense lateral roots, leaving behind a patchy Guilandina-only landscape. We use this system to highlight a novel form of invasion, likely to apply to many other systems where the invasive species is pattern-forming. Depending on the level of water stress, the invasion can take two distinct forms: (i) a complete invasion at low stress that culminates in a patchy Guilandina-only landscape through a spot-replication process, and (ii) an incomplete invasion at high stress that begins but does not spread, forming isolated Guilandina spots of fixed size, surrounded by bare-soil halos, in an otherwise uniform Cyperus grassland. Thus, drier climates may act selectively on pattern-forming invasive species, imposing incomplete invasion and reducing the negative effects on native species.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberpgac294
JournalPNAS Nexus
Volume2
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2023

Keywords

  • mathematical modeling
  • patchy invasion
  • shrubland–grassland systems
  • vegetation pattern formation

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