Ecological Research

, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 242–247 | Cite as

Factors determining plant–neighbour interactions on different spatial scales in young species-rich grassland communities

  • Ann Milbau
  • Dirk Reheul
  • Benny De Cauwer
  • Ivan Nijs
Original Article


In naturally colonised species-rich grassland communities, we examined the properties of a plant’s aboveground neighbourhood that affect its performance (aboveground biomass). To this end a range of neighbourhood parameters were measured: number, biomass and species richness of the neighbours, number and biomass of the conspecific neighbours, and light availability at the base of the target plant. We also determined at which neighbourhood size the strongest target plant–neighbour interactions occurred, and whether conspecific neighbours affected competitively stronger or weaker target species differently. Target plant performance varied with target identity, and was significantly affected by light availability and the number of neighbouring plants (neighbourhood density). Depending on the target species, there was also an effect of total neighbour biomass on plant performance. The target plants were most strongly affected by their neighbours within a 3-cm distance, which could account for 78% of the variance in target biomass. Number or biomass of the conspecific neighbours did not contribute to the explanation of target performance in any of the target species. Whereas in an 8-cm neighbourhood the amount of light penetration was the strongest predictor of target performance, the number of neighbours was more important in a 3-cm neighbourhood. These experimental results might be useful to extend existing neighbourhood competition models for one or two species to multi-species competition models.


Competition Conspecific neighbours Grassland Neighbourhood Small-scale interactions 



This research was supported by the Belgian Federal Science Policy Office, under the programme Global Change, Ecosystems and Biodiversity.


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Copyright information

© The Ecological Society of Japan 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ann Milbau
    • 1
  • Dirk Reheul
    • 2
  • Benny De Cauwer
    • 2
  • Ivan Nijs
    • 3
  1. 1.Botany DepartmentTrinity College DublinDublin 2Ireland
  2. 2.Department of Plant Production, Faculty of Bioscience EngineeringGhent UniversityGentBelgium
  3. 3.Research Group of Plant and Vegetation Ecology, Department of BiologyUniversity of AntwerpWilrijkBelgium

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