Genotype and maternal environment affect belowground interactions between Arabidopsis thaliana and its competitors


  • Oliver Bossdorf,

  • Zunaira Shuja,

  • Joshua A. Banta

O. Bossdorf (, Z. Shuja and J. A. Banta, Dept of Ecology and Evolution, Stony Brook Univ., 650 Life Sciences, Stony Brook, NY 11794-5245, USA. Present address for OB: Inst. of Plant Sciences, Univ. of Bern, Altenbergrain 21, CH–3013 Bern, Switzerland. Present address for JAB: Center for Genomics and Systems Biology, New York Univ., 100 Washington Square East, New York, NY 10003, USA.


Ecological interactions between different species are not fixed, but they may depend, at least to some extent, on the particular genotypes involved as well as on the environmental conditions experienced by previous generations. We used a set of natural genotypes of Arabidopsisthaliana, that previously experienced contrasting nutrient and herbivory conditions, to test for the influences of genetic variation and maternal effects on competitive interactions between Arabidopsis and the weedy annuals Anagallisarvensis and Senecio vulgaris. We used activated carbon to discriminate between resource competition and allelopathy components of plant-plant interactions. There was a clear competitive hierarchy: Senecio>Arabidopsis>Anagallis. Although we found no evidence for allelopathic potential of Arabidopsis, our results indicate that both Anagallis and Senecio exerted negative (direct or indirect) allelopathic effects on Arabidopsis. There were significant differences among Arabidopsis genotypes in their competitive effects on both neighbor species, as well as in their response to competition. Maternal environments significantly influenced not only the growth and fitness of Arabidopsis itself, but also its competitive effect on Anagallis. We found, however, no evidence that maternal environments affected the competitive effect on Senecio or overall competitive response of Arabidopsis. Generally, resource competition played a greater role than allelopathy, and genotype effects were more important than maternal effects. Our study demonstrates that ecological interactions, such as plant competition, are complex and multi-layered, and that, in particular, the influence of genetic variation on interactions with other species should not be overlooked.