Can competitive ability predict structure in experimental plant communities?


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Two questions were posed: 1. Can an independent measure of relative competitive ability be used to predict the abundance of species in mixtures? 2. Is the success of those predictions affected by low fertility (stress simulation) or clipping (disturbance simulation)?


Greenhouse at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.


We collected adult plant ramets of 11 species from the field and transplanted one ramet of each species into 56 containers of 60 L. We applied a 4 × 2 factorial combination of fertilization (none, full nutrients except N, full nutrients except P, full nutrients) and clipping (no clipping, clipping to 10 cm above soil) with seven replicates of each treatment. After two growing seasons the above- and below-ground biomass of each species was determined.


Regression analyses uncovered a significant positive relationship between plant biomass (measured in this study) and relative competitive ability (as measured in an independent study) under all experimental conditions. Both the mean slope and mean R2 were lowest in treatments with low nutrients and highest in the full nutrient treatment (irrespective of clipping).


Our results show that (1) at high fertility, relative competitive ability can generally predict the abundance of species in experimental plant communities, and (2) the intensity of competition (inferred from the magnitude of the slope or R2) increased with increasing nutrient supply, particularly nitrogen.