Experimental evidence from Cantabrian mountain heathlands suggests new recommendations for management of Vaccinium myrtillus L

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Authors

PATO Joaquina OBESO José Ramón PLOQUIN Emilie F. JIMÉNEZ ALFARO GONZÁLEZ Francisco De Borja

Year of publication 2016
Type Article in Periodical
Magazine / Source PLANT ECOLOGY & DIVERSITY
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Science

Citation
Doi http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17550874.2016.1176080
Field Botany
Keywords Calluna vulgaris; cutting; competition; facilitation; heathland management; nitrogen fertilization
Description Background: Management actions in mountain heathlands oriented to increasing the cover of Vaccinium myrtillus promote mowing of Calluna vulgaris to avoid competition. However, such action ignores the fact that plant-plant interactions range from competition to facilitation under different stress conditions. Aims: To test whether the interactions between these two species are related to competition or facilitation, which would change the perspective for their management in mountain heathlands. Methods: A total of 40 experimental plots located in a montane heathland (northern Spain) were selected. Calluna or Vaccinium plants were either cut at ground level or not cut, and plots were fertilized with nitrogen or not in a three-factorial design. Vegetative and reproductive shoot mass and length of the current year's shoots were estimated in two consecutive years for both species. Herbivory on Vaccinium by browsing ungulates was compared in control plots and plots where Calluna had been cut 2 yrs ago. Results: The two study species co-occurred in 72.4% of the sampled plots, although Calluna was more abundant. Vaccinium growth was greater in plots with Calluna than in plots where Calluna had been cut. Browsing on Vaccinium was also higher in plots were Calluna had been cut, and the effect of fertilization was only significant on the reproductive biomass of Calluna. Conclusions: Contrary to initial proposals, our results suggest that Vaccinium does not always benefit from the cutting of Calluna in heathlands. Thus, the management of Cantabrian mountain heathlands should consider maintaining Calluna in order to facilitate the growth of Vaccinium.
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