Diversity and Coexistence of Sonoran Desert Winter Annuals


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58 Scopus citations


Abstract Annual plants make up ca. 50% of local floras in the Sonoran Desert. As with most plant communities, there is no shortage of potential coexistence generating mechanisms, and several mechanisms are likely contributors to coexistence at different spatial scales in the Sonoran Desert, e.g. spatial heterogeneity and the behaviors of predators and grazers. We explore one mechanism of likely importance for desert annuals: temporal environmental variation. It is widely recognized that coexistence is promoted by temporal variation if species such as desert annuals have “temporal niches” in the sense that each has years in which it out‐performs the others. It is usually suggested that some resistent life‐history stage, such as a seed bank, is also necessary to buffer each species from the negative population dynamic impact of unfavorable years. Using ten years of demographic data, we document the large year‐to‐year variation in population dynamics of desert annuals and show that ten species respond differently to temporal variation. Competition experiments document reversals in competitive superiority. Also, all species have a between‐year seed bank, such that only a proportion of the seed bank germinates in any given year. Thus this system meets our intuitive requirements for variance‐based coexistence. Dynamic models of this system demonstrate that subtle aspects of the species biology determine whether coexistence criteria are actually met. Specifically, variable germination fractions are required and coexistence is most readily favored with “predictive” germination. Germination fractions in this system do vary among years in a species specific fashion. Also, for the three years of available data, germination was predictive, in that each species had greater germination fractions in year of greater demographic success. Thus all of the population dynamic elements necessary for temporal variance mediated coexistence seem to be present in this system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)207-216
Number of pages10
JournalPlant Species Biology
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Dec 1993


  • coexistence
  • desert annuals
  • population dynamics
  • seed bank
  • temporal variance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Plant Science


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