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1.  Plant Interactions Alter the Predictions of Metabolic Scaling Theory 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e57612.
Metabolic scaling theory (MST) is an attempt to link physiological processes of individual organisms with macroecology. It predicts a power law relationship with an exponent of −4/3 between mean individual biomass and density during density-dependent mortality (self-thinning). Empirical tests have produced variable results, and the validity of MST is intensely debated. MST focuses on organisms’ internal physiological mechanisms but we hypothesize that ecological interactions can be more important in determining plant mass-density relationships induced by density. We employ an individual-based model of plant stand development that includes three elements: a model of individual plant growth based on MST, different modes of local competition (size-symmetric vs. -asymmetric), and different resource levels. Our model is consistent with the observed variation in the slopes of self-thinning trajectories. Slopes were significantly shallower than −4/3 if competition was size-symmetric. We conclude that when the size of survivors is influenced by strong ecological interactions, these can override predictions of MST, whereas when surviving plants are less affected by interactions, individual-level metabolic processes can scale up to the population level. MST, like thermodynamics or biomechanics, sets limits within which organisms can live and function, but there may be stronger limits determined by ecological interactions. In such cases MST will not be predictive.
PMCID: PMC3584043  PMID: 23460884
2.  Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi alter plant allometry and biomass–density relationships 
Annals of Botany  2010;107(3):407-413.
Background and Aims
Plant biomass–density relationships during self-thinning are determined mainly by allometry. Both allometry and biomass–density relationship have been shown to vary with abiotic conditions, but the effects of biotic interactions have not been investigated. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) can promote plant growth and affect plant form. Here experiments were carried out to test whether AMF affect plant allometry and the self-thinning trajectory.
Two experiments were conducted on Medicago sativa L., a leguminous species known to be highly dependent on mycorrhiza. Two mycorrhizal levels were obtained by applying benomyl (low AMF) or not (high AMF). Experiment 1 investigated the effects of AMF on plant growth in the absence of competition. Experiment 2 was a factorial design with two mycorrhizal levels and two plant densities (6000 and 17 500 seeds m−2). Shoot biomass, root biomass and canopy radius were measured 30, 60, 90 and 120 d after sowing. The allometric relationships among these aspects of size were estimated by standardized major axis regression on log-transformed data.
Key Results
Shoot biomass in the absence of competition was lower under low AMF treatment. In self-thinning populations, the slope of the log (mean shoot biomass) vs. log density relationship was significantly steeper for the high AMF treatment (slope = –1·480) than for the low AMF treatment (–1·133). The canopy radius–biomass allometric exponents were not significantly affected by AMF level, but the root–shoot allometric exponent was higher in the low AMF treatment. With a high level of AMF, the biomass–density exponent can be predicted from the above-ground allometric model of self-thinning, while this was not the case when AMF were reduced by fungicide.
AMF affected the importance of below-ground relative to above-ground interactions and changed root vs. shoot allocation. This changed allometric allocation of biomass and altered the self-thinning trajectory.
PMCID: PMC3043928  PMID: 21169608
Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi; biomass–density relationship; canopy radius–biomass allometry; root–shoot biomass allometry; Medicago sativa; self-thinning
3.  Effects of positive interactions, size symmetry of competition and abiotic stress on self-thinning in simulated plant populations 
Annals of Botany  2010;106(4):647-652.
Background and Aims
Competition drives self-thinning (density-dependent mortality) in crowded plant populations. Facilitative interactions have been shown to affect many processes in plant populations and communities, but their effects on self-thinning trajectories have not been investigated.
Using an individual-based ‘zone-of-influence’ model, we studied the potential effects of the size symmetry of competition, abiotic stress and facilitation on self-thinning trajectories in plant monocultures. In the model, abiotic stress reduced the growth of all individuals and facilitation ameliorated the effects of stress on interacting individuals.
Key Results
Abiotic stress made the log biomass – log density relationship during self-thinning steeper, but this effect was reduced by positive interactions among individuals. Size-asymmetric competition also influenced the self-thinning slope.
Although competition drives self-thinning, its course can be affected by abiotic stress, facilitation and competitive symmetry.
PMCID: PMC2944970  PMID: 20643802
Density-dependent mortality; positive interactions; self-thinning; size symmetry competition; abiotic stress; zone of influence model; ZOI
4.  Evolutionary Agroecology: the potential for cooperative, high density, weed-suppressing cereals 
Evolutionary Applications  2010;3(5-6):473-479.
Evolutionary theory can be applied to improve agricultural yields and/or sustainability, an approach we call Evolutionary Agroecology. The basic idea is that plant breeding is unlikely to improve attributes already favored by millions of years of natural selection, whereas there may be unutilized potential in selecting for attributes that increase total crop yield but reduce plants’ individual fitness. In other words, plant breeding should be based on group selection. We explore this approach in relation to crop-weed competition, and argue that it should be possible to develop high density cereals that can utilize their initial size advantage over weeds to suppress them much better than under current practices, thus reducing or eliminating the need for chemical or mechanical weed control. We emphasize the role of density in applying group selection to crops: it is competition among individuals that generates the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’, providing opportunities to improve plant production by selecting for attributes that natural selection would not favor. When there is competition for light, natural selection of individuals favors a defensive strategy of ‘shade avoidance’, but a collective, offensive ‘shading’ strategy could increase weed suppression and yield in the high density, high uniformity cropping systems we envision.
PMCID: PMC3352502
crop-weed competition; group selection; ideotype; shade avoidance
5.  Size symmetry of competition alters biomass-density relationships. 
As crowded populations of plants develop, the growth of some plants is accompanied by the death of others, a process called density-dependent mortality or 'self-thinning'. During the course of density-dependent mortality, the relationship between total population biomass (B) and surviving plant density (N) is allometric: B = aN(b). Essentially, increasing population biomass can be achieved only through decreasing population density. Variation in the allometric coefficient a among species has been recognized for many years and is important for management, assessment of productivity and carbon budgets, but the causes of this variation have not been elucidated. Individual-based models predict that size-dependent competition causes variation in the allometric coefficient. Using transgenic Arabidopsis with decreased plasticity, we provide experimental evidence that morphological plasticity of wild-type populations decreases the size asymmetry of competition for light and thereby decreases density-dependent mortality. This decrease in density-dependent mortality results in more biomass at a given density under size-symmetric compared with size-asymmetric competition.
PMCID: PMC1691148  PMID: 12427311

Results 1-5 (5)