Identification of trade-offs underlying the primary strategies of plants
Smith, M. J. and Sibly, R. M. (2008) Identification of trade-offs underlying the primary strategies of plants. Evolutionary Ecology Research, 10 (1). pp. 45-60. ISSN 1522-0613
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Question: What are the key physiological and life-history trade-offs responsible for the evolution of different suites of plant traits (strategies) in different environments? Experimental methods: Common-garden experiments were performed on physiologically realistic model plants, evolved in contrasting environments, in computer simulations. This allowed the identification of the trade-offs that resulted in different suites of traits (strategies). The environments considered were: resource rich, low disturbance (competitive); resource poor, low disturbance (stressed); resource rich, high disturbance (disturbed); and stressed environments containing herbivores (grazed). Results: In disturbed environments, plants increased reproduction at the expense of ability to compete for light and nitrogen. In competitive environments, plants traded off reproductive output and leaf production for vertical growth. In stressed environments, plants traded off vertical growth and reproductive output for nitrogen acquisition, contradicting Grime's (2001) theory that slow-growing, competitively inferior strategies are selected in stressed environments. The contradiction is partly resolved by incorporating herbivores into the stressed environment, which selects for increased investment in defence, at the expense of competitive ability and reproduction. Conclusion: Our explicit modelling of trade-offs produces rigorous testable explanations of observed associations between suites of traits and environments.