SourceEvolutionary Ecology, 18, 5-6, (2004), pp. 429-442
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Experimental Plant Ecology
Habitat selection by directional growth of plants has previously been investigated but field evidence for this phenomenon is extremely scarce. In this study we demonstrate directional clonal growth in Aechmea nudicaulis, a monocarpic, perennial bromeliad native to spatially heterogeneous sandy coastal plains (restinga) in Brazil. This habitat is characterized by a matrix of bare sand with interspersed vegetation islands. Due to very high soil surface temperatures and other stress factors such as drought, A. nudicauliscan only germinate inside vegetation islands. Nevertheless, this species is very common on bare sand. In this study we tested the hypothesis that clonal fragments occurring at the border and inside vegetation islands show habitat selection by growing preferentially towards the bare sand habitat (i.e. away from the center of vegetation islands). We randomly chose 116 clonal fragments in two distinct micro-environments (inside vegetation islands, and in the border area between bare sand and vegetation islands) in the natural habitat of A.nudicaulisand measured their growth direction in relation to the island center. We measured the growth directions of entire clonal fragments (defined as the line that connects the oldest and the youngest ramets of a clonal fragment) as well as the growth direction of the youngest internode on each fragment (the growth direction of the youngest ramet in relation to its parent ramet). We used Monte Carlo simulations to test for deviations from randomness in the growth direction of clonal fragments and individual internodes. The clonal fragments of A.nudicaulis showed a significant tendency to grow away from the center of vegetation islands. In other words, the main growth direction of clonal fragments growing inside vegetation islands or at the border between bare sand and vegetation islands was preferentially directed towards bare sand environments. Individual internodes at the border of vegetation islands also exhibited this tendency to grow towards the outside of vegetation islands, but internodes growing inside vegetation islands did not show directional growth. These results provide the first field evidence for habitat selection through directional growth of a clonal plant species.
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