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Moss cushions facilitate water and nutrient supply for plant species on bare limestone pavements

Kaj Sand-Jensen and Kathrine Jul Hammer
Oecologia
Vol. 170, No. 2 (October 2012), pp. 305-312
Published by: Springer in cooperation with International Association for Ecology
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41686241
Page Count: 8
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Moss cushions facilitate water and nutrient supply for plant species on bare limestone pavements
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Abstract

Dense moss cushions of different size are distributed across the bare limestone pavements Øland, SE Sweden. Increasing cushion size is predicted to physically protect and improve performance and colonization by vascular plants. Therefore, we tested water balance, phosphorus supply, and species richness, and evaluated duration of plant activity during desiccation as a function of ground area, for a large collection of moss cushions. We found that lower evaporation and higher water storage contributed equally to extending the desiccation period with increasing cushion size. Evaporation rates declined by the –0.36 power of cushion diameter, and were not significantly different from –0.50 for the square root function previously predicted for the increasing thickness of the boundary layer, with greater linear dimensions for smooth flat objects at low wind velocities. Size dependence vanished under stagnant conditions. One moss species was added to the species pool for every nine-fold increase in cushion area. Vascular plants were absent from the smallest cushions, whereas one or two species, on average, appeared in 375- and 8,500-cm² cushions with water available for 6 and 10 days during desiccation. Phosphorus concentrations increased stepwise and four-fold from detritus to surface mosses and to vascular plants, and all three pools increased with cushion size. We conclude that cushion mosses and cushion size play a critical role in this resource-limited limestone environment by offering an oasis of improved water and nutrient supply to colonization and growth of plants.

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