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  • 1 Universidad de Chile Departamento de Ciencias Ecológicas, Facultad de Ciencias Casilla 653 Santiago Chile
  • | 2 Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile Center for Advanced Studies in Ecology and Biodiversity (CASEB), Departamento de Ecología, Facultad de Ciencias Biológicas Casilla 114D Santiago 6513677 Chile
  • | 3 Facultad de Ciencias Universidad de Chile Instituto de Ecología y Biodiversidad (IEB) Casilla 653 Santiago Chile
  • | 4 Escuela de Ingeniería y Ciencias Universidad de las Américas-Puebla Departamento de Ciencias Químico Biológicas Santa Catarina Mártir, Cholula 72820 Puebla México
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Facilitation by nurse plants is one of the most commonly reported interactions between plants and is regarded as an important factor in structuring plant communities. We used a meta-analysis to examine the generality of these effects, focusing on cushion plants, a common life-form occurring in high-Andean ecosystems. We targeted the following questions: (1) is there a generalized positive effect of cushions on other vascular plant species along the Andes? (2) do different species groups (i.e., annuals and perennials, natives and exotics) display different association responses to cushions? (3) does the nurse effect of cushions increase with environmental severity? Results indicated that the overall effect of cushions is positive, however these positive effects were more significant amongst exotic plants than in native plants; effects were only positive for perennial plants, and were notably negative for annuals. The positive effects of cushions also increased with physical stress, but only for perennial plants. These results allow us to suggest that as a whole cushions may be acting as keystone species that maintain the structure and diversity of high-Andean plant communities. Nevertheless, since cushions also positively affect the performance of exotic plants, we should be aware of their potential role in promoting biological invasions.

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