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In arid and semi-arid ecosystems, shrubs have an important effect on neighboring plants. However, little is known about the interaction of herb growth stages and shrub location on herb performance. We selected Reaumuria soongorica, (Pall.) Maxim a shrub dominant in the semiarid region of northwest China, to determine whether (1) shrubs facilitate or have negative effects on neighbouring herbaceous vegetation, and (2) such effects vary with herb growth stage and with shrub orientation relative to herbs. The presence of herbaceous plant species, plant density, plant height, and percent cover were determined along 2 m long transects spreading in four directions from the base of shrub – east (transect E), west (transect W), south (transect S), and north (transect N); this was repeated for three growth stages (in May, June and July). Results indicated that the effects of R. soongorica on neighboring herbs in different growth stages were similar. Species number of herb-layer plants tended to increase from beneath the canopy to the opening, but plant density, cover and plant height decreased with distance away from shrub base. The presence of R. soongorica had positive effects on density, cover, and plant height, and negative on the number of herbaceous species during the entire growing season. Herbaceous plants growing on transect N under the shrub canopy had significantly higher density and percent cover than those growing in other directions. Biomass of herbs on transect N grown under the shrub canopy was higher than that of herbs on other transects. We concluded that shrub effects on neighbouring herbaceous vegetation were closely related to the shrub orientation relative to the herbs. Therefore, using shrubs as nurse plants for grass-growing must consider the relative placement of shrubs.
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