Do pioneer species enhance early performance of native species in subtropical shrublands? An examination involving six native species in South China


This paper examines the following questions: (1) Do early pioneer species have a greater impact on the survival and growth of different successional native trees compared to the shrub Rhodomyrtus tomentosa? (2) Do canopy treatments affect soil nutrients and light availability? (3) What is the mechanism underlying the interaction between nurse species and target species? Degraded shrubland sites (Heshan, Guangdong, China), under moist subtropical conditions were studied. About 1-year-old seedlings of Pinus massoniana, Schima wallichii, Schefflera heptaphylla, Castanopsis hystrix, Cryptocarya chinensis and Castanea chinensis were transplanted under the canopy of R. tomentosa, Dicranopteris dichotoma and in open interspaces without vegetation. Survival and growth were recorded from the first growing season after planting. Leaf gas exchange, water potential, soil physicochemical characters and irradiation were then measured. Canonical redundancy analyses (RDA) were used to evaluate the relationships between environmental factors and seedling survival and growth conditions. Both R. tomentosa and D. dichotoma canopy treatment facilitated seedling survival and growth either directly or indirectly. Irradiance/radiation was considered the most important resource (factor) for seedling growth in subtropical regions, however, soil nutrients and species are yet to be examined simultaneously with irradiance/radiation under field conditions. We conclude that early successional species facilitates the survival and growth of late successional species in subtropical shrublands. However, further predictions of successional trajectories remain elusive and are influenced by stochastic processes, including arrival order, shade tolerance, physiological character of the colonizing species and their competitive interactions.

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A :

Net photosynthesis


Soil Available Potassium

Amax :

Light-saturated maximum photosynthesis


Soil Available Phosphorus


Apparent Quantum Efficiency


Chinese Academy of Sciences


Chinese Ecological Research Network

C.V. :

coefficient of variation


dichotoma treatment


total soil potassium


light compensation point


total soil nitrogen


Two-Way Analyses of Variance


Open Treatment


total soil phosphorus


Photosynthetically Active Radiation


Photon Photosynthetic Flux Density


Dark Respiration Rate


Canonical Redundancy Analysis


Neighbor Effect Index


tomentosa treatment


Soil bulk density


Soil Organic Carbon


Soil Organic Matter


Soil Water Content


air Temperature

Ψmd :

Midday Leaf Water Potential.


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This research was supported by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 31270013). The authors are grateful to several colleagues at Heshan National Field Research Station of Forest Ecosystems, especially to Z. F. Lin, Z. A. Li and X. Gou for experimental design guidance; to H. L. Zhang for soil chemical analyses; and to B. Zou and G. Wang for field assistance.

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Correspondence to S. Yuan.

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Yuan, S., Liu, N., Ren, H. et al. Do pioneer species enhance early performance of native species in subtropical shrublands? An examination involving six native species in South China. COMMUNITY ECOLOGY 20, 53–63 (2019).

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Key words

  • Facilitation
  • Fern
  • Leaf water potential
  • Soil nutrient
  • Soil water content
  • Succession