Evolutionary Ecology

, 23:737

Offspring for the next generation: most are produced by small plants within herbaceous populations

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s10682-008-9269-x

Cite this article as:
Chambers, J. & Aarssen, L.W. Evol Ecol (2009) 23: 737. doi:10.1007/s10682-008-9269-x


Within crowded natural plant populations, the traditional prediction is that most of the offspring from which future generations are drawn will be contributed by the relatively few individuals belonging to the larger size classes. Yet, the extent to which this is true should depend on the extent to which the inevitably more numerous, but relatively small suppressed plants within the same population manage not only to survive suppression, but also to reproduce before death. We recorded the above-ground dry mass for mature reproductive plants from natural populations of 21 species of herbaceous angiosperms. The size distributions of these reproductive plants were all strongly right-skewed, and in every case, the vast majority of the estimated offspring production within the population was contributed by the three, four, or five smallest deciles of the plant size distribution. Our data suggest, in contrast with traditional theory, that most of the coexisting species within crowded vegetation are successful residents not because they are relatively large, but because they produce numerous descendants from numerous offspring that have ‘reproductive economy’—i.e. offspring with the ability, despite suppression to a very small size, to also produce offspring of their own for the next generation.


CoexistenceCompetitive abilityFecundityFitnessPlant sizePlasticityReproductive economySize-fecundity relationships

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyQueen’s UniversityKingstonCanada