More plant biomass results in more offspring production in annuals, or does it?


  • Marina S. Neytcheva,

  • Lonnie W. Aarssen

M. S. Neytcheva and L. W. Aarssen (, Dept of Biology, Queen's Univ., Kingston, Ontario, K7L 3N6, Canada.


Competitive ability in plants has been previously measured almost exclusively in terms of traits related to growth (biomass) or plant size. In this study, however, we used a multi-species competition experiment with six annuals to measure relative competitive ability in terms of reproductive output, i.e. the number of offspring produced for the next generation. Under greenhouse conditions, plants of each species were started in pots from germinating seeds and were grown singly (free of competition) and at high density in both monocultures and in mixtures with all study species. Several traits traditionally regarded as determinants of competitive ability in plants were recorded for each species grown singly, including: seed mass, germination time, early growth rate and potential plant size (biomass and height). Under competition, several traits were recorded as indicators of relative performance in both monocultures and mixtures, including: biomass of survivors, total number of survivors, number of reproductive survivors, and reproductive output (total seed production) of the survivors. As expected, species that grew to a larger biomass in isolation had higher seed production in isolation. However, none of the traditional plant growth/size-related traits, measured either in isolation or under competition, could predict between species variation in reproductive output under competition in either monocultures or mixtures. In mixtures, 97% of this variation in reproductive output could be explained by between-species variation in the number of reproductive survivors. The results indicate that traits measured on plants grown singly may be poor predictors of reproductive output under competition, and that species’ rank order of competitive ability in terms of the biomass of survivors may bear no relationship to their rank order in terms of the number of offspring produced by these survivors. This has important implications for the interpretation of mechanisms of species coexistence and community assembly within vegetation.