Plant biotic interactions in the Sonoran desert: Current knowledge and future research perspectives

Kimberly A. Franklin, Pacifica N. Sommers, Clare E. Aslan, Blanca R. López, Judith L. Bronstein, Enriquena Bustamante, Alberto Búrquez, Rodrigo A. Medellín, Brigitte Marazzi

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Premise of research. Biotic interactions have long been considered to be of less importance in structuring desert systems than other ecosystem types, but biotic interactions often play a critical role in meeting the challenges posed by the extreme conditions of desert environments. The Sonoran Desert, in particular, is home to several textbook examples of mutualisms, such as the interactions between the iconic saguaro cactus and its bat pollinators. But what do we know about the diversity, ecology, and evolution of plant-animal, plant-plant, and plant-microbe interactions and their impacts on individual plants and plant species in the Sonoran Desert? Methodology. To address this question, we review the published research on seven common kinds of plant biotic interactions by revisiting the respective literature, identifying gaps in our knowledge, and outlining future research directions. Pivotal results. Numerous gaps in our knowledge of plant biotic interactions in the Sonoran Desert were identified. Studies of insect herbivory, bee pollination, and plant-microbe interactions are poorly represented in the Sonoran Desert literature. Across all categories of interaction, few have examined the impacts of interactions on plant fitness or context-dependent variation in the outcomes and strengths of interactions. For the most part, interactions have been studied at single locations and over short periods of time, resulting in an incomplete understanding of their diversity, ecology, and evolution. Conclusions. Plant biotic interactions shape the habitats in which they occur and play an important role in the maintenance of species diversity. Therefore, we call for increased efforts to fill the gaps in our understanding of plant biotic interactions in the Sonoran Desert, with an emphasis on studies linking interactions to plant fitness and the context-dependent nature of interactions. Without this knowledge we have limited capacity to predict the outcomes of global change on species interactions and to develop measures to conserve the biodiversity of the Sonoran Desert region.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)217-234
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Plant Sciences
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016


  • Antagonism
  • Arid lands
  • Interspecific interactions
  • Mutualism
  • Natural history
  • Plant-plant interactions
  • Symbiosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Plant Science


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