Dynamic trajectories of growth and nitrogen capture by competing plants
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- •Although dynamic, plant competition is usually estimated as biomass differences at a single, arbitrary time; resource capture is rarely measured. This restricted approach perpetuates uncertainty. To address this problem, we characterized the competitive dynamics of Dactylis glomerata and Plantago lanceolata as continuous trajectories of biomass production and nitrogen (N) capture.
- •Plants were grown together or in isolation. Biomass and N content were measured at 17 harvests up to 76 d after sowing. Data were fitted to logistic models to derive instantaneous growth and N capture rates.
- •Plantago lanceolata was initially more competitive in terms of cumulative growth and N capture, but D. glomerata was eventually superior. Neighbours reduced maximum biomass, but influenced both maximum N capture and its rate constant. Timings of maximal instantaneous growth and N capture rates were similar between species when they were isolated, but separated by 16 d when they were competing, corresponding to a temporal convergence in maximum growth and N capture rates in each species. Plants processed N and produced biomass differently when they competed.
- •Biomass and N capture trajectories demonstrated that competitive outcomes depend crucially on when and how ‘competition’ is measured. This potentially compromises the interpretation of conventional competition experiments.