Relationships between shrubs and annual communities in a sandy desert ecosystem: A three-year study

Katja Tielbörger*, Ronen Kadmon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


A field study was designed to investigate the effect of shrubs on the dynamics and structure of annual plant communities in a sandy desert ecosystem. Densities of emerging and reproductive plants of all annual species were monitored in permanent quadrats located under shrubs and in open areas between shrubs during three successive years; a relatively dry one, a relatively wet one, and a very dry one. A total of 29 species were recorded in the study. Of these, 19 species did not show any evidence for differences in abundance between the two habitats. Nine species exhibited year-to-year variation in their responses to the shrub-opening gradient, being more common in a particular habitat during one year, and showing no response or even an opposite response during a different year. Only one species was consistently more abundant under shrubs throughout the whole study period, and no species was consistently more abundant in the openings. These findings contradict the hypothesis that annual species associated with desert shrub communities can be categorized into distinct groups based on their 'preference' for shrubs vs. openings. Ordination analyses of community-level patterns indicated that annual communities inhabiting the openings were more stable than those inhabiting the shrub habitat. The main lesson from this study is the importance of long-term observations in studies attempting to characterize community-level responses to environmental gradients.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)191-201
Number of pages11
JournalPlant Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1997

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We want to thank A. Höhn for her assistance in field-and laboratory work and T. Vincent and five anonymous reviewers for valuable comments on a previous version of this manuscript. The research was supported by the MINERVA Stipendien-Komiteefür Deutsch-Israelische Zusammenarbeit, the Lady Davis Fellowship Trust and the Israel Science Foundation administered by the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. The study was conducted at the Nizzana experimental station of the Hebrew University Arid Ecosystems Research Center.


  • Annual plants
  • Community structure
  • Desert
  • Habitat heterogeneity
  • Sand dunes
  • Temporal environmental variation


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