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Keywords:

  • Coexistence;
  • competition;
  • fitness;
  • local density;
  • neighbor-removal;
  • plant size;
  • recruitment;
  • trade-off

Abstract

The selection consequences of competition in plants have been traditionally interpreted based on a “size-advantage” hypothesis – that is, under intense crowding/competition from neighbors, natural selection generally favors capacity for a relatively large plant body size. However, this conflicts with abundant data, showing that resident species body size distributions are usually strongly right-skewed at virtually all scales within vegetation. Using surveys within sample plots and a neighbor-removal experiment, we tested: (1) whether resident species that have a larger maximum potential body size (MAX) generally have more successful local individual recruitment, and thus greater local abundance/density (as predicted by the traditional size-advantage hypothesis); and (2) whether there is a general between-species trade-off relationship between MAX and capacity to produce offspring when body size is severely suppressed by crowding/competition – that is, whether resident species with a larger MAX generally also need to reach a larger minimum reproductive threshold size (MIN) before they can reproduce at all. The results showed that MIN had a positive relationship with MAX across resident species, and local density – as well as local density of just reproductive individuals – was generally greater for species with smaller MIN (and hence smaller MAX). In addition, the cleared neighborhoods of larger target species (which had relatively large MIN) generally had – in the following growing season – a lower ratio of conspecific recruitment within these neighborhoods relative to recruitment of other (i.e., smaller) species (which had generally smaller MIN). These data are consistent with an alternative hypothesis based on a ‘reproductive-economy-advantage’ – that is, superior fitness under competition in plants generally requires not larger potential body size, but rather superior capacity to recruit offspring that are in turn capable of producing grand-offspring – and hence transmitting genes to future generations – despite intense and persistent (cross-generational) crowding/competition from near neighbors. Selection for the latter is expected to favor relatively small minimum reproductive threshold size and hence – as a tradeoff – relatively small (not large) potential body size.