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Keywords:

  • co-evolution;
  • competition;
  • evolution;
  • extended phenotype;
  • facilitation;
  • niche;
  • plant–plant interactions;
  • selection

Summary

1. Interactions among plants and their consumers, pollinators and dispersers are central to evolutionary theory, but interactions among plants themselves have received much less attention. Thus focusing more attention on the evolutionary role of plant–plant interactions may provide greater insight into the processes that organize communities.

2. Here, we integrate divergent themes in the literature in an effort to provide a synthesis of empirical evidence and ideas about how plant interactions may affect evolution and how evolution may affect plant interactions.

3. First, we discuss the idea of niche partitioning evolving through competitive interactions among plants, the idea of niche construction evolving through facilitative interactions, and the connections between these ideas and more recent research on diversity and ecosystem function and trait-based community organization.

4. We then review how a history of coexistence within a region might affect competitive outcomes and explore the mechanisms by which plants exert selective forces on each other. Next, we consider recent research on invasions suggesting that plant interactions can reflect regional evolutionary trajectories. Finally, we place these lines of research into the context of extended phenotypes and the geographic mosaic of co-evolution.

5.Synthesis. Our synthesis of separate lines of inquiry is a step towards understanding the evolutionary importance of interactions among plants, and suggests that the evolutionary consequences of interactions contribute to communities that are more than assemblages of independent populations.