- Top of page
- The two alternative hypotheses to the SGH at the edge of life
- The underlying mechanisms of the two alternatives to the SGH
- Theoretical and applied implications
New evidence demonstrates that facilitation plays a crucial role even at the edge of life in Maritime Antarctica. These findings are interpreted as support for the stress-gradient hypothesis (SGH) – a dominant theory in plant community ecology that predicts that the frequency of facilitation directly increases with stress. A recent development to this theory, however, proposed that facilitation often collapses at the extreme end of stress and physical disturbance gradients. In this paper, we clarify the current debate on the importance of plant interactions at the edge of life by illustrating the necessity of separating the two alternatives to the SGH, namely the collapse of facilitation, and the switch from facilitation to competition occurring in water-stressed ecosystems. These two different alternatives to the SGH are currently often amalgamated with each other, which has led to confusion in recent literature. We propose that the collapse of facilitation is generally due to a decrease in the effect of the nurse plant species, whilst the switch from facilitation to competition is driven by environmental conditions and strategy of the response species. A clear separation between those two alternatives is particularly crucial for predicting the role of plant–plant interactions in mediating species responses to global change.