Forest encroachment into a Californian grassland: Examining the simultaneous effects of facilitation and competition on tree seedling recruitment

Peter G. Kennedy, Wayne P. Sousa

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36 Scopus citations


Competition and facilitation are both considered major factors affecting the structure of plant assemblages, yet few studies have quantified positive, negative, and net effects simultaneously. In this study, we investigated the positive, negative, and net effects of tree saplings on the encroachment of two tree species, Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and tanoak (Lithocarpus densiflora), into a coastal California grassland. The study involved three components: sampling the spatial distributions of P. menziesii and L. densiflora in the grasslands, a field experiment examining seedling survival in different grassland environments, and a greenhouse experiment examining the effects of soil moisture on early seedling performance. The field experiment was conducted over a 2-year period, using Pseudotsuga in 2002 and both species in 2003. Seedlings were separated into four treatment groups: those planted in open grassland, in shaded grassland, under artificial (plastic) conifer saplings, and under natural Pseudotsuga saplings. Air temperature, relative humidity, soil moisture, incident radiation levels and fog water inputs were measured for each treatment group in 2003. In the greenhouse experiment, Pseudotsuga and Lithocarpus seedlings were grown for 13 weeks in watering treatments simulating the summer soil moisture conditions of the open grasslands and under Pseudotsuga saplings. Surveys of naturally established seedlings found that Lithocarpus occurred only under Pseudotsuga saplings, while most Pseudotsuga seedlings were located near but not directly under conspecific saplings. In the field experiment, positive effects of tree saplings were much larger than negative effects, resulting in strong net facilitation of seedling establishment. Survival for both species was always higher under the plastic and live trees than in the open or shade plots. The primary mechanism facilitating seedling survival appeared to be increased soil moisture caused by input of fog precipitation coupled with reduced microsite evaporation. The greenhouse experiment further showed that soil moisture strongly affected seedling performance, with both species having much higher photosynthetic rates in the higher moisture treatment. In the lower moisture treatment, Pseudotsuga seedlings had higher photosynthetic rates and stomatal conductance than Lithocarpus, suggesting they may be able to better tolerate the environmental conditions found in the open grasslands. Our combined results suggest that rate and patterning of woody plant encroachment can be strongly influenced by facilitation and that fog precipitation may play a key role in plant interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)464-474
Number of pages11
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 2006

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements The authors would like to thank the Marin Municipal Water District for use of their land; J. Abraham, J. Diaz, N. Hausmann, M. Metz, A. Kennedy, J. Skene, S. Rudolph, and E. Wong for field and logistical assistance; W. Watkins for greenhouse assistance; P. Brooks and S. Mambelli for assistance with the stable isotope analyses. J. Battles, T. Bruns, J. Corbin, T. Dawson, N. Hausmann, M. Palomino, and two anonymous reviewers made constructive comments on earlier versions of this paper. Financial support for this project was provided by the Department of Integrative Biology and the MPF, UC Berkeley, a NSF graduate research fellowship to P.G. Kennedy, and a NSF D.D.I.G. grant (DEB-0309152) to P. Kennedy, W. Sousa, and T. Bruns.


  • Facilitation
  • Fog precipitation
  • Grassland
  • Lithocarpus densiflora
  • Pseudotsuga menziesii
  • Seedling establishment
  • Woody plant encroachment


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