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Volume 12, issue 1
Web Ecol., 12, 49–55, 2012
© Author(s) 2012. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Special issue: Plant–plant interactions: from competition to...

Web Ecol., 12, 49–55, 2012
© Author(s) 2012. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Standard article 01 Oct 2012

Standard article | 01 Oct 2012

Biomass explains the intensity of facilitative – not competitive – interactions: three intraspecific tests with annuals

C. Ariza and K. Tielbörger C. Ariza and K. Tielbörger
  • Department of Plant Ecology, University of Tübingen, Auf der Morgenstelle 3, 72076 Tübingen, Germany

Abstract. Despite efforts to discern the role of plant size in resource competition, the circumstances under which size-dependent plant-plant interactions occur are still unclear. The traditional assumption is that competition intensifies with increasing neighbour size. However, recent studies suggest that the size (biomass) dependence of competitive interactions is strongest at very low biomass levels and becomes negligible after a certain threshold neighbour biomass has been reached. We searched for the generality of such patterns for three common annual plant species in Israel. We monitored target and neighbour biomass along their entire lifecycle using an even-aged, intraspecific and intrapopulation competition screenhouse experiment under water-limited conditions. For all focal species, neighbour presence had a net negative effect on vegetative biomass at harvest. However, this was not explained by increasing neighbour biomass over time, as a consistent pattern of size-dependent facilitative, rather than competitive, interactions was observed at all life stages. We explain these observations in terms of co-occurring aboveground facilitation and dominant belowground competition for water. Since our findings are the first of their kind and contradict theoretical predictions of biomass dependence of net negative interactions, we advocate further experiments addressing size dependence in interactions among plants. In particular, theoretical models addressing size dependence of positive interactions must be developed.

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