Plant Ecology

, Volume 191, Issue 2, pp 171–184 | Cite as

Competition hierarchy, transitivity and additivity: investigating the effect of fertilisation on plant–plant interactions using three common bryophytes

  • Carsten F. DormannEmail author
Original Paper


The way competition structures plant communities has been investigated intensely over many decades. Dominance structures due to competitive hierarchies, with consequences for species richness, have not received as much experimental attention, since their manipulation is a large logistic undertaking. Here the data from a model system based on bryophytes are presented to investigate competition structure in a three-species system. Grown in monocultures, pairwise and three-species mixtures under no and high nitrogen supply, the three moss species responded strongly to treatment conditions. One of them suffered from nitrogen fertilisation and hence performed better in mixtures, where the dominant species provided physical shelter from apparently toxic nitrogen spray. Accordingly, no linear competitive hierarchy emerged and qualitative transitivity remains restricted to the unfertilised treatments. Faciliation also affected other properties of the competition structure. The reciprocity of competition effects could not be observed. Moreover, the performances in three-species mixtures were not well predictable from the knowledge of monocultures and pairwise mixtures because competitive effects were not additive. This had implications for community stability at equilibrium: all two-species systems were stable, both fertilised and unfertilised, while the three-species system was only stable when fertilised. This stability under fertilisation has probably to do with the facilitative effect of the two dominant species on the third. In this experiment, little support for commonly held ideas was found about the way competition in plant communities is structured. On the other hand, this study shows that moss communities are ideal model systems to test predictions of theoretical models concerning properties and consequences of competition in plant communities.


Bryophytes Community matrix Competition Facilitation Lotka–Volterra Stability Transitivity 



I thank Nikolai Köbernic for his help in running and harvesting the experiment, Martin Freiberg, Matthias Schwieger and the staff of the Botanical Garden Leipzig for help with experimental setup, Carsten Vogt for logistic support and Christian Rixen for sharing his experience in moss blending. Comments by Justin Calabrese, Christian Rixen and two anonymous referees considerably improved a previous version of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department Computational Landscape EcologyHelmholtz Centre for Environmental Research UFZLeipzigGermany

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