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Competition in a rough neighborhood: Plant success in a desert environment
Date:12/31/2013

Gremer. "Specifically, the composition of plant communities has changed over the last 30 years, with species that have high water-use efficiency becoming more common and species with high relative growth rates declining."

The research showed that all species did better in wet environments when grown alone; however, water availability had additional effects when competition was included. Species that have faster growth rates were less affected by competition in wet environments, whereas those more efficient with water were less affected in dry environments.

"These observed effects explain the patterns seen in long-term data and are counterintuitive to many readers because some plants might actually do better when conditions are not optimal," explains Gremer. In most settings of this research, though, the intermediate species had the largest competitive effect of all species. The intermediate was also observed to have a high level of intraspecific competitiveness, suggesting a reason why the intermediate does not competitively exclude other species.

Their results demonstrate that some plants are better at competing in wet environments, while others are better in dry environments. They were able to predict this pattern by looking at important characteristics, efficiency of water use and growth rate, to determine how they would react to limited resources. This has implications on future studies. According to Gremer, "A major challenge in ecology is to find traits or characteristics that can be used as indicators to predict how plants will respond without having to study each and every individual species. In our system, we have had remarkable success at doing that." However, these traits may not be the most important factors in all systems. Increased understanding of how these traits mediate competition under different conditions, for both native and non-native plants, is important considering the threats of climate change and invasive species.

"We need
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Contact: Richard Hund
rhund@botany.org
314-577-9557
American Journal of Botany
Source:Eurekalert

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