Do plant parts compete for resources? An evolutionary viewpoint


Author for correspondence:
Victor O. Sadras
Tel:+61 8 8303 9661


Simultaneously growing sinks are thought to compete for plant resources. Negative correlations, for example between grain number and stem mass in cereals, indeed resemble competition; but is the notion of intra-plant competition evolutionarily justified? Here we review intra-plant competition in light of two aspects of evolutionary biology: (a) major transitions that led to the reorganization of evolutionary individuals (e.g. isolated DNA molecules and independent cells) into new units of adaptation (e.g. chromosomes and multicellular organisms) with associated constraints to intra-individual conflict; and (b) genomic conflicts within individual plants with implications for resource allocation. Against this background, we look at apparent competition among genetically identical plant parts, and conclude that plants might use competition-like mechanisms to allocate resources, but only to the extent that these proximate mechanisms enhance overall plant fitness. In dealing with apparent competition among genetically different plant structures, we emphasize developing seeds attached to the same maternal plant, and the determination of yield components in annual crops. We propose that competition-like mechanisms among genetically different plant parts have been strongly shaped by the evolution of genomic conflict between parent and offspring, between female and male parents, and among siblings. By defining the number and potential size of grain simultaneously and before fertilization, a strong maternal control of resource allocation is exerted that favours uniform offspring size and partially counteracts genomic conflict.