Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 28, Issue 6, pp 1139–1153 | Cite as

Neighbours matter: natural selection on plant size depends on the identity and diversity of the surrounding community

  • Amy L. ParachnowitschEmail author
  • Susan C. Cook-Patton
  • Scott H. McArt
Original Paper


Plant diversity can affect ecological processes such as competition and herbivory, and these ecological processes can act as drivers of evolutionary change. However, surprisingly little is known about how ecological variation in plant diversity can alter selective regimes on members of the community. Here, we examine how plant diversity at two different scales (genotypic and species diversity) impacts natural selection on a focal plant species, the common evening primrose (Oenothera biennis). Because competition is frequently relaxed in both genotypically and species rich plant communities, we hypothesized that increasing diversity would weaken selection on competitive ability. Changes in plant diversity can also affect associated arthropod communities. Therefore, we hypothesized that diversity would alter selection on plant traits mediating these interactions, such as herbivory related traits. We grew 24 focal O. biennis genotypes within four different neighbourhoods: genotypic monocultures or polycultures of O. biennis, and species monocultures or polycultures of old-field species that commonly co-occur with O. biennis. We then measured genotypic selection on nine plant traits known to be ecologically important for competition and herbivory. Focal O. biennis plants were smaller, flowered for shorter periods of time, had lower fitness, and experienced greater attack from specialist predispersal seed predators when grown with conspecifics versus heterospecifics. While neither conspecific nor heterospecific diversity altered trait means, both types of diversity altered the strength of selection on focal O. biennis plants. Specifically, selection on plant biomass was stronger in conspecific monocultures versus polycultures, but weaker in heterospecific monocultures versus polycultures. We found no evidence of selection on plant traits that mediate insect interactions, despite differences in arthropod communities on plants surrounded by conspecifics versus heterospecifics. Our data demonstrate that plant genotypic and species diversity can act as agents of natural selection, potentially driving evolutionary changes in plant communities.


Biodiversity Biomass Community driven selection Genotypic selection Natural selection Oenothera biennis 



An NSF IGERT grant in Biogeochemistry and Environmental Biocomplexity supported this research, and C. Becker, S. Campbell, A. Erwin, M. Kersch- Becker, P. Llambias, G. Petchenka, M. Stastny, and numerous Cornell undergraduates provided field assistance. Thanks to M. Johnson, S. Karrenberg and N. Sletvold for feedback on analyses, and A. Agrawal and J. Thaler for support and encouragement on this multifaceted experiment. Three anonymous reviewers, as well as the plant–insect interaction groups at Uppsala and Cornell provided useful comments that greatly improved the manuscript.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10682_2014_9727_MOESM1_ESM.doc (52 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 52 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amy L. Parachnowitsch
    • 1
    Email author
  • Susan C. Cook-Patton
    • 2
  • Scott H. McArt
    • 3
  1. 1.Plant Ecology and Evolution, Evolutionary Biology CentreUppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden
  2. 2.Smithsonian Environmental Research CenterEdgewaterUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiologyUniversity of Massachusetts-AmherstAmherstUSA

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