Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 33, Issue 2, pp 195–209 | Cite as

Plant–plant interactions promote alpine diversification

  • Sabrina S. GaviniEmail author
  • Cecilia Ezcurra
  • Marcelo A. Aizen
Original Paper


Plant–plant interactions can promote diversification in harsh environments through (1) natural selection producing divergent adaptations to extreme and varying abiotic conditions in plants that grow in the open, or (2) genetic drift involving little niche differentiation in plants that grow associated with others. We assessed whether alpine plant genera characterized by competitively-excluded or facilitated species are more diverse than genera characterized by habitat-generalist species at both global and local scales. Based on literature data, we characterized plant–plant interactions for 642 alpine species in 254 genera worldwide, using the relative interaction index (RII) that indicates the extent to which a plant species is competitively-excluded or facilitated by others. We tested whether the RII can be considered as a plant trait relatively well-preserved at the generic level and, within a phylogenetic framework, assessed how the number of alpine species per genus varies along the entire gradient of plant–plant interactions at both global and local scales. Species belonging to the same genus tended to be more similar in the RII-values than species from different genera, with ca. 20% of the variation in RII accounted by differences among genera. The relation between the total number of alpine species per genus and mean RII showed two comparable peaks, with genera in the competitive-exclusion or facilitation categories having, on average, more than twice as many species as genera in the neutral category. However, we found that more congeneric species from the competitive-exclusion category coexist locally than congeneric species from the facilitation category. This pattern of plant species richness at the community level was consistent with predictions from the hypotheses that competition promotes adaptive niche divergence at local scales, whereas facilitation promotes divergence with little niche differentiation. We conclude that both negative and positive ecological interactions play an important role as evolutionary drivers of alpine plant diversity.


Alpine plants Diversification Plant–plant interactions Nurse effect Facilitation Competitive-exclusion Niche differentiation 



The authors thank E. Zattara and two anonymous reviewers for useful comments and suggestions. This study was supported by a National Research Council of Argentina (CONICET) doctoral scholarship to S.S. Gavini. This work was partially funded by the National Fund for Research (PICT 2015-2333). C.E. and M.A.A are career researchers of CONICET.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Data availability statement

All data generated or analyzed during this study are included in this published article [and its supplementary information files].

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 887 kb)
10682_2019_9972_MOESM2_ESM.xlsx (34 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (XLSX 34 kb)
10682_2019_9972_MOESM3_ESM.xlsx (445 kb)
Supplementary material 3 (XLSX 446 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.INIBIOMAUNComahue-CONICETBarilocheArgentina

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