High shoot plasticity favours plant coexistence in herbaceous vegetation
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- Lepik, M., Liira, J. & Zobel, K. Oecologia (2005) 145: 465. doi:10.1007/s00442-005-0142-0
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Several theoretical considerations imply that high shoot morphological plasticity could increase competition symmetry and favour plant coexistence. We tested whether mean plasticity across co-occurring species is a key trait for explaining ramet density and species richness in herbaceous vegetation. We used three data sets to test the hypotheses: (a) experimentally achieved estimates of plasticity to light availability for 35 herbaceous species; (b) richness, ramet density and canopy architecture data from 17 herbaceous communities; (c) species richness data from a 5-year permanent-plot study in a calcareous grassland. In herbaceous communities containing species with relatively higher shoot plasticity, ramet density was significantly higher. Consequently, relatively more species were growing per unit area—a greater proportion of the community species pool was represented on 1 m2. In the permanent plot study species-richness was higher in those 40×40 cm quadrats where species with high shoot plasticity prevailed—there was a positive regression of richness on the mean plasticity of species. This relationship was highly significant in five consecutive years. Our results suggest that shoot plasticity to light availability is evidently one of the key traits in processes that alter the density of co-existing plants and, therefore, species diversity in herbaceous communities.