Evidence for chemical interference effect of an allelopathic plant on neighboring plant species: A field study

Antonio I Arroyo, Yolanda Pueyo, M Luz Giner, Ana Foronda, Pedro Sanchez-Navarrete, Hugo Saiz, Concepción L Alados
PloS One 2018, 13 (2): e0193421
Many studies have reported the phytotoxicity of allelopathic compounds under controlled conditions. However, more field studies are required to provide realistic evidences for the significance of allelopathic interference in natural communities. We conducted a 2-years field experiment in a semiarid plant community (NE Spain). Specifically, we planted juvenile individuals and sowed seeds of Salsola vermiculata L., Lygeum spartum L. and Artemisia herba-alba Asso. (three co-dominant species in the community) beneath adult individuals of the allelopathic shrub A. herba-alba, and assessed the growth, vitality, seed germination and seedling survival of those target species with and without the presence of chemical interference by the incorporation of activated carbon (AC) to the soil. In addition, juveniles and seeds of the same three target species were planted and sown beneath the canopy of adults of S. vermiculata (a shrub similar to A. herba-alba, but non-allelopathic) and in open bare soil to evaluate whether the allelopathic activity of A. herba-alba modulates the net outcome of its interactions with neighboring plants under contrasting abiotic stress conditions. We found that vitality of A. herba-alba juveniles was enhanced beneath A. herba-alba individuals when AC was present. Furthermore, we found that the interaction outcome in A. herba-alba microsite was neutral, whereas a positive outcome was found for S. vermiculata microsite, suggesting that allelopathy may limit the potential facilitative effects of the enhanced microclimatic conditions in A. herba-alba microsite. Yet, L. spartum juveniles were facilitated in A. herba-alba microsite. The interaction outcome in A. herba-alba microsite was positive under conditions of very high abiotic stress, indicating that facilitative interactions predominated over the interference of allelopathic plants under those conditions. These results highlight that laboratory studies can overestimate the significance of allelopathy in nature, and consequently, results obtained under controlled conditions should be interpreted carefully.

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