Positive plant interactions in the Iberian Southeast: Mechanisms, environmental gradients, and ecosystem function

F. I. Pugnaire*, C. Armas, F. T. Maestre

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

114 Scopus citations


Semi-arid ecosystems are privileged sites to address the effects of plant interactions on community structure and dynamics because environmental conditions are demanding and may change quickly, altering in significant ways the balance between positive and negative effects among neighboring plants. Plant interaction processes have been well documented in the semi-arid region of Southeast Spain over the last 15 years. In this article we review the growing body of research on plant-plant interactions available from this area, highlighting its importance in increasing our knowledge on this field of study. This review has been organized in five sections, i) facilitation mechanisms; ii) the nurse effect; iii) the balance of interactions and environmental, ontogenic, temporal, and spatial gradients; iv) the effects of facilitation on biodiversity; and, v) facilitation and ecosystem functioning. Mechanisms of facilitation in these systems are relatively well known, but not completely explored. In these environments competition, mainly for water, is intense between neighbors and switches in intensity from belowground to aboveground as productivity increases. By contrast, facilitation may decrease quickly with increasing productivity, although the balance between facilitation and competition is not fully understood, and is further complicated because shifts can also be driven by factors such as life history or physiology of interacting species. Positive interactions are critical for maintaining biodiversity in some ecosystems in SE Spain, but their role as a driver of ecosystem functioning is less clear. Research on plant-plant interactions in this region has been highly influential and has contributed to our overall understanding of plant community dynamics. Despite the important progress achieved during the last 15 years, there is still substantial scope for exploring the effects of plant interactions at the ecosystem level, and their role as modulators of disturbances such as the current global environmental change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1310-1320
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Arid Environments
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2011


  • Arid ecosystems
  • Biodiversity
  • Competition
  • Facilitation
  • Plant interactions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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