Articles | Volume 10, issue 1
20 Sep 2010
 | 20 Sep 2010

A systematic review of the recent ecological literature on cushion plants: champions of plant facilitation

A. M. Reid, L. J. Lamarque, and C. J. Lortie

Abstract. Cushion-forming plant species are found in alpine and polar environments around the world. They modify the microclimate, thereby facilitating other plant species. Similar to the effectiveness of shrubs as a means to study facilitation in arid and semi-arid environments, we explore the potential for cushion plant species to expand the generality of research on this contemporary ecological interaction. A systematic review was conducted to determine the number of publications and citation frequency on relevant ecological topics whilst using shrub literature as a baseline to assess relative importance of cushions as a focal point for future ecological research. Although there are forty times more shrub articles, mean citations per paper is comparable between cushion and shrub literature. Furthermore, the scope of ecological research topics studied using cushions is broad including facilitation, competition, environmental gradients, life history, genetics, reproduction, community, ecosystem and evolution. The preliminary ecological evidence to date also strongly suggests that cushion plants can be keystone species in their ecosystems. Hence, ecological research on net interactions including facilitation and patterns of diversity can be successfully examined using cushion plants, and this is particularly timely given expectations associated with a changing climate in these regions.