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Seeing the tree from the forest: Predicting the future of plant communities
Date:8/21/2009

The ability to envisage the future may be closer than you would think. A recent paper by Sean Hammond and Karl Niklas in the August 2009 issue of the American Journal of Botany (available here) presents an algorithm that may be used to predict the future dynamics of plant communities, an increasingly interesting area of study as significant environmental changes, such as global climate change and invasive species, are affecting current plant communities.

Similar ecological factors, such as nutrient availability and habitat stability, play a role in the growth and development of both an individual plant and a community of plants, like a forest; however, the length of time that these factors effect change differs between individual plants that may live for decades and plant communities that may exist for thousands of years. A goal of plant ecology has been to find ways to predict plant behavior in communities based on observed properties of a few representative members.

Hammond and Niklas have developed an algorithmspatially explicit, reiterative algorithm, or SERAthat explores whether changes occurring in plant communities, such as self-thinning and the competitive displacement of one species by another, can be attributed to the characteristics of the individual plants that comprise the community.

"Our model predicts how a plant population or community will behave when plant-plant interactions are predicated exclusively on the constraints imposed by a few physical principles and by competition for physical space and light," stated Dr. Niklas.

Recent empirical studies have shown that a variety of plant communities in different environments exhibit some of the same size-dependent and age-dependent trends. One example is the relationship between the mass of tree canopies and the diameter of the tree trunks. In the simulations of plant growth within a
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Contact: Richard Hund
rhund@botany.org
314-577-9557
American Journal of Botany
Source:Eurekalert  

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Seeing the tree from the forest: Predicting the future of plant communities
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