Lortie, Christopher J.; Gruber, Eva; Filazzola, Alessandro; Noble, Taylor; Westphal, Michael. 2017. The Groot Effect: Plant facilitation and desert shrub regrowth following extensive damage. Ecology and Evolution. (Abstract)
Deserts are increasing in extent globally, but existing deserts are decreasing in health. The basic biology and ecology of foundation plant species in deserts are limited. This is a direct study that provides an estimate of the capacity for a locally dominant foundation shrub species in California to recover from damage. Desert shrubs are cleared and damaged by humans for many purposes including agriculture, oil and gas production, and sustainable energy developments; we need to know whether foundation species consistently facilitate the abundance and diversity of other plants in high-stress ecosystems and whether they can recover. A total of 20 Ephedra californica shrubs were clipped to the ground at a single site and systematically resampled for regrowth 2 years later. These shrubs were damaged once and regrew rapidly, and relatively, larger shrubs were not more resilient. This study provides evidence for what we termed the “Groot Effect” because smaller individuals of this shrub species can recover from significant aboveground damage and continue to have positive effects on other plant species (similar to the popular culture reference to a benefactor tree species). The density of other plant species was consistently facilitated while effects on diversity varied with season. These findings confirm that E. californica is a foundation species that can be an important restoration tool within the deserts of California in spite of extreme cycles of drought and physical damage to its canopy.