, Volume 87, Issue 4, pp 532-538

A trade-off between scale and precision in resource foraging

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There is widespread uncertainty about the nature and role of morphological plasticity in resource competition in plant communities. We have assayed the foraging characteristics of leaf canopies and root systems of eight herbaceous plants of contrasted ecology using new techniques to create controlled patchiness in light and mineral nutrient supply. The results are compared with those of a conventional competition experiment. Measurements of dry matter partitioning and growth in patchy conditions indicate a consistent positive association between the foraging characteristics of roots and shoots, supporting the hypothesis of strong interdependence of competitive abilities for light and mineral nutrients. Differences are identified in the abilities of dominant and subordinate plants to forage on coarse and fine scalcs. It is suggested that a trade-off exists in the scale (“high” in dominants) and precision (high in subordinates) with which resources are intercepted and that this trade-off contributes to diversity in communities of competing plants.