Plant Ecology

, Volume 220, Issue 4–5, pp 417–432 | Cite as

Dominant plants alter the microclimate along a fog gradient in the Atacama Desert

  • Diego A. Sotomayor
  • Taly Dawn DreznerEmail author


We assessed the impact of fog on microclimate in a poorly understood fog desert under two common nurse plant species, at three sites: (1) foggy coast, (2) intermediate, and (3) above the main fog belt in the Atacama Desert (Peru). We quantify nurse plant modification of their understory that creates favorable microsites for other species. Dataloggers collected temperature, relative humidity (RH) and dew point temperature under Randia armata, Caesalpinia spinosa and in the open at the three sites. The Relative Interaction Index (RII), Friedman’s two-way ANOVA, and correlation were used to compare conditions across microsites and field sites. At noon, the understory was cooler and RH was higher than in the open, consistent with non-fog deserts. Early morning temperatures were warmer in the open at the more fog-influenced sites, unlike non-fog deserts. The temperature gap (cooler in the understory) is smallest at the coast and largest in the interior. Temperature and moisture generally fluctuate less at the most fog-influenced sites, while understory conditions at the interior (least-fog influenced) site was most similar to those found in non-fog deserts. Because fog reduces weather extremes, amelioration by vegetation becomes less on foggy days as extremes are already dampened by the fog, and facilitation by nurse plants is greatest when conditions are most like traditional deserts (e.g., clear skies, hot). These results provide mechanistic support for the effects of nurse plants through stress amelioration in fog deserts.


Atacama Desert Facilitation Fog deserts Microclimate Plant–fog interactions 



We thank C. Lortie for equipment and York University Faculty of Graduate Studies for salary support during field work. We thank the community of Atiquipa for allowing us entrance to their private reserve.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

11258_2019_924_MOESM1_ESM.docx (27 kb)
Supplementary file1 (DOCX 27 kb)


  1. Armas C, Ordiales R, Pugnaire FI, (2004) Measuring plant interactions: a new comparative index. Ecology 85:2682–2686CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barbosa O, Marquet PA, Bacigalupe LD, Christie DA, del-Val E, Gutierrez AG, Jones CG, Weathers KC, Armesto JJ (2010) Interactions among patch area, forest structure and water fluxes in a fog-inundated forest ecosystem n semi-arid Chile. Funct Ecol 24:909–917CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bertness MD, Callaway RM (1994) Positive interactions in communities. Trends Ecol Evol 9:191–193CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Borthagaray AI, Fuentes MA, Marquet PA (2010) Vegetation pattern formation in a fog-dependent ecosystem. J Theoretical Biol 265:18–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brako L, Zarucchi JL (1993) Catalogue of the flowering plants and gymnosperms of Peru. Monographs in Systematic Botany Vol. 45. Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis.Google Scholar
  6. Bunce JA (1984) Effect of humidity on photosynthesis. J Exp Bot 35:1245–1251CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Butterfield BJ, Betancourt JL, Turner RM, Briggs JM (2010) Facilitation drives 65 years of vegetation change in the Sonoran Desert. Ecology 91:1132–1139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Caldwell MM, Dawson TE, Richards JH, (1998) Hydraulic lift: consequences of water efflux from the roots of plants. Oecologia 113:151–161CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Callaway RM (1995) Positive interactions among plants. Bot Rev 61:306–349CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Castellanos AE, Tinoco-Ojanguren C, Molina-Freaner F (1999) Microenvironmental heterogeneity and space utilization by desert vines within their host trees. Ann Bot 84:145–153CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dawson TE (1993) Hydraulic lift and water use by plants: implications for water balance, performance and plant-plant interactions. Oecologia 95:565–574CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dawson TE (1998) Fog in the California redwood forest: ecosystem inputs and use by plants. Oecologia 117:476–485CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. del-Val E, Armesto JJ, Barbosa O, Christie DA, Gutierrez AG, Jones CG, Marquet PA, Weathers KC, (2006) Rain forest islands in the Chilean semiarid region: fog-dependency, ecosystem persistence and tree regeneration. Ecosystems 9:598–608CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dobson RT (2005) Thermal modelling of a night sky radiation cooling system. J Energy in Southern Africa 16:20–31Google Scholar
  15. Drezner TD (2004) Saguaros and their nurses in the Sonoran Desert: a review. Desert Plants 20:3–10Google Scholar
  16. Drezner TD (2006) Plant facilitation in extreme environments: the non-random distribution of saguaro cacti (Carnegiea gigantea) under their nurse associates and the relationship to nurse architecture. J Arid Environ 65:46–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Drezner TD (2007) An analysis of winter temperature and dew point under the canopy of a common Sonoran Desert nurse and the implications for positive plant interactions. J Arid Environ 69:554–568CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Drezner TD (2010) Nurse tree canopy shape, the subcanopy distribution of cacti, and facilitation in the Sonoran Desert. J Torrey Bot Soc 137:277–286CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Drezner TD (2014) The keystone saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea, Cactaceae): a review of its ecology, associations, reproduction, limits, and demographics. Pl Ecol 215:581–595CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Drezner TD (2015) Regional environmental conditions affect microsite response in a keystone desert species. J Arid Environ 116:89–95CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Drezner TD, Garrity CM (2003) Saguaro distribution under nurse plants in Arizona's Sonoran Desert: directional and microclimate influences. Professional Geographer 55:505–512CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Ewing HA, Weathers KC, Templer PH, Dawson TE (2009) Fog water and ecosystem function: heterogeneity in a California redwood forest. Ecosystems 12:417–433CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Filazzola A, Lortie CJ (2014) A systematic review and conceptual framework for the mechanistic pathways of nurse plants. Global Ecol Biogeogr 23:1335–1345CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Flores J, Jurado E (2003) Are nurse-protégé interactions more common among plants from arid environments? J Veg Sci 14:911–916CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Franco AC, Nobel PS (1988) Interactions between seedlings of Agave deserti and the nurse plant Hilaria rigida. Ecology 69:1731–1740CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Franco AC, Nobel PS (1989) Effect of nurse plants on the micro-habitat and growth of cacti. J Ecol 77:870–886CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hill AJ, Dawson TE, Shelef O, Rachmilevitch S (2015) The role of dew in Negev Desert plants. Oecologia 178:317–327CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Ju J, Bai H, Zheng Y, Zhao T, Fang R, Jiang L (2012) A multi-structural and multi-functional integrated fog collection system in cactus. Nature Communications 3:1247CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kerfoot O (1968) Mist precipitation on vegetation. Forestry Abstracts 29:8–20Google Scholar
  30. Kidron GJ (2009) The effect of shrub canopy upon surface temperatures and evaporation in the Negev Desert. Earth Surf Proc Land 34:123–132CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kropfl AI, Cecchi GA, Villasuso NM, Distel RA (2002) The influence of Larrea divarcata on soil moisture and on water status and growth of Stipa tenuis in southern Argentina. J Arid Environ 52:29–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lortie CJ, Brooker RW, Choler P, Kikvidze Z, Michalet R, Pugnaire FI, Callaway RM (2004) Rethinking plant community theory. Oikos 107:433–438CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Maestre FT, Bautista S, Cortina J (2003) Positive, negative, and net effects in grass-shrub interactions in Mediterranean semiarid grasslands. Ecology 84:3186–3197CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Martorell C, Ezcurra E (2007) The narrow-leaf syndrome: a functional and evolutionary approach to the form of fog-harvesting rosette plants. Oecologia 151:561–573CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. McKay CP, Friedmann EI, Gomez-Silva B, Caceres-Villanueva L, Andersen DT, Landheim R (2003) Temperature and moisture conditions for life in the extreme arid region of the Atacama Desert: four years of observations including the El Nino of 1997–1998. Astrobiology 3:393–406CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Muenchow J, Brauning A, Rodriguez EF, von Wehrden H (2013a) Predictive mapping of species richness and plant species’ distributions of a Peruvian fog oasis along an altitudinal gradient. Biotropica 35:557–566CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Muenchow J, Hauenstein S, Brauning A, Baumler R, Rodriguez EF, von Wehrden H (2013b) Soil texture and altitude, respectively, largely determine the floristic gradient of the most diverse fog oasis in the Peruvian desert. J Trop Ecol 29:427–438CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Naeth MA, Bailey AW, Chanasyk DS, Pluth DJ (1991) Water holding capacity of litter and soil organic matter in mixed prairie and fescue grassland ecosystems of Alberta. J Range Management 44:13–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Ninari N, Berliner PR (2002) The role of dew in the water and heat balance of bare loess soil in the Negev Desert: quantifying the actual dew deposition on the soil surface. Atmos Res 64:323–334CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Parker AR, Lawrence CR (2001) Water capture by a desert beetle. Nature 414:33–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Pefaur JE (1982) Dynamics of plant communities in the Lomas of Southern Peru. Vegetatio 49:163–171CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Prieto I, Kikvidze Z, Pugnaire FI (2010) Hydraulic lift: soil processes and transpiration in the Mediterranean leguminous shrub Retama sphaerocarpa (L.) Boiss. Plant Soil 329:447–456CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Roth-Nebelsick A, Ebner M, Miranda T, Gottschalk V, Voigt D, Gorb S, Stegmaier T, Sarsour J, Linke M, Konrad W (2012) Leaf surface structures enable toe endemic Namib desert grass Stipagrostis sabulicola to irrigate itself with fog water. J Royal Soc Interface 9:1965–1974CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Rundel PW, Dillon MO, Palma B, Mooney HA, Gulmon SL, Ehleringer JR (1991) The phytogeography and ecology of the coastal Atacama and Peruvian Deserts. Aliso 13:1–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Shope JC, Peak K, Mott KA (2008) Stomatal responses to humidity in isolated epidermes. Plant, Cell Environ 31:1290–1298CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Smith SD, Didden-Zopfy B, Nobel PS (1984) High-temperature responses of North American cacti. Ecology 65:643–651CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Sotomayor DA, Lortie CJ, Lamarque LJ (2014) Nurse-plant effects on the seed biology and germination of desert annuals. Austral Ecol 39:786–794CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Sotomayor DA, Lortie CJ (2015) Indirect interactions in terrestrial plant communities: emerging patterns and research gaps. Ecosphere 6: art 103.Google Scholar
  49. Sotomayor DA, Jimenez P (2008) Condiciones meteorológicas y dinámica vegetal del ecosistema costero Lomas de Atiquipa (Caravelí-Arequipa) en el sur del Perú. Ecología Aplicada 7:1–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Stanton DE, Armesto JJ, Hedin LO (2014) Ecosystem properties self-organize in response to a directional fog-vegetation interaction. Ecology 95:1203–1212CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Suzan H, Nabhan GP, Patten DT (1996) The importance of Olneya tesota as a nurse plant in the Sonoran Desert. J. Veg. Sci. 7:635–644CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Taylor CM, Lorence DH (1993) On the status of Randia armata (Sw.) DC. (Rubiaceae: Gardenieae). Taxon 42:865–867CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Tielbörger K, Kadmon R (2000) Temporal environmental variation tips the balance between facilitation and interference in desert plants. Ecology 81:1544–1553CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Valiente-Banuet A, Ezcurra E (1991) Shade as a cause of the association between the cactus Neobuxbaumia tetetzo and the nurse plant Mimosa luisiana in the Tehuacán Valley, Mexico. J Ecol 79:961–971CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wang Z, Zhao X, Yang J, Song J (2016) Cooling and energy saving potentials of shade trees and urban lawns in a desert city. Appl Energy 161:437–444CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyYork UniversityTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Genetic Resources DivisionInstituto Nacional de Innovación AgrariaLimaPerú

Personalised recommendations