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Spatial ecology of a root parasite : from pattern to process
journal contributionposted on 2007-06-01, 00:00 authored by D Watson, David RoshierDavid Roshier, T Wiegand
Occurrence patterns of parasitic plants are constrained by the distribution of suitable hosts and movement patterns of seed vectors and, accordingly, represent a simplified system to study many aspects of spatial ecology and determinants of distribution. Previous work has focused on the aerially hemiparasitic mistletoes, and it is unclear whether root parasites are affected by similar factors. Here, we evaluate spatial patterns in the root parasitic Santalum lanceolatum in an arid shrubland in north-western New South Wales, central Australia. In this region, the principal host is a long-lived nitrogen fixing shrub Acacia tetragonophylla closely associated with ephemeral creek-lines. The location of 765 individuals of both species was mapped along a 250-m section of creek-line using a total survey station, and occurrence patterns of the root parasite related to host distribution and landscape context. We used Ripley's K-function and the O-ring statistic to determine whether the distribution of S. lanceolatum was random, aggregated or regular; the spatial scales at which these patterns occurred; and to quantify any spatial associations between the parasite and its host, A. tetragonophylla. While acacias were closely associated with the creek-line, S. lanceolatum plants were more tightly clustered, displaying significant clustering at two spatial scales (1.2 m and 8.8 m). We suggest that host quality may act as an important constraint, with only those acacias growing in or near the creek-line being physiologically capable of supporting a parasite to maturity. Insights gained from spatial analysis are used to guide ongoing research in this system, and highlight the utility of the O-ring statistic for understanding patterns of distribution affected by multiple processes operating at critical scales.