Publication Date

Summer 7-30-2012

Journal

Ecosphere

Volume

3

Issue

7

First Page

Article 68

Abstract

Spatial analyses of plant-distribution patterns can provide inferences about intra- and interspecific biotic interactions. Yet, such analyses are rare for clonal plants because effective tools (i.e., molecular markers) needed to map naturally occurring clonal individuals have only become available recently. Clonal plants are unique in that a single genotype has a potential to spatially place new individuals (i.e., ramets) in response to intra- and interspecific biotic interactions. Laboratory and greenhouse studies suggest that some clonal plants can avoid intra-genet, inter-genet, and inter-specific competition via rootplacement patterns. An intriguing and yet to be explored question is whether a spatial signature of such multi-level biotic interactions can be detected in natural plant communities. The facultatively clonal Serenoa repens and non-clonal Sabal etonia are ecologically similar and co-dominant palmettos that sympatrically occur in the Florida peninsula. We used amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLPs) to identify Serenoa genets and also to assign field-unidentifiable small individuals as Sabal seedlings, Serenoa seedlings, or Serenoa vegetative sprouts. Then, we conducted univariate and bivariate multi-distance spatial analyses to examine the spatial interactions of Serenoa (n=271) and Sabal (n=137) within a 20x20 m grid at three levels, intragenet, intergenet and interspecific. We found that spatial interactions were not random at all three levels of biotic interactions. Serenoa genets appear to spatially avoid self-competition as well as intergenet competition. Furthermore, Serenoa and Sabal were spatially negatively associated with each other. However, this negative association pattern was also evident in a spatial comparison between non-clonal Serenoa and Sabal, suggesting that Serenoa genets’ spatial avoidance of Sabal through placement of new ramets is not the explanation of the interspecific-level negative spatial pattern. Our results emphasize the importance of investigating spatial signatures of biotic as well as abiotic interactions at multiple levels in understanding spatial distribution patterns of clonal plants in natural plant communities.

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