Plant interactions are unimportant in a subarctic–alpine plant community

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Abstract

We investigated whether plant interaction intensity in a subarctic–alpine meadow is important for determining community structure and species abundance. Using two common species as phytometers, we measured interaction intensity using a neighbor removal approach. Eight biotic and abiotic variables known to influence species abundance and community structure were measured, with regression trees used to examine how plant interactions and the biotic and abiotic variables were related to species evenness, richness, and phytometer spatial cover. A range of interactions was present, with both strong competition and facilitation present over small-scale abiotic and biotic gradients. Despite the variation in interaction intensity, it was generally unrelated to either community structure or phytometer cover. In other words, plant interactions were intense in many cases but were not important to community structure. This may be due to the prevalence of clonal species in this system and the influence of previous year's interactions on plant survival and patterns of community structure. These results also suggest how conflicting theories of the role of competition in unproductive environments may be resolved. Our findings suggest that plant interactions may be intense in reducing individual growth, while simultaneously not important in the context of community structure. Plant interactions need to be viewed and tested relative to other factors and stresses to accurately evaluate their importance in plant communities, with continued differentiation between the intensity of plant interactions and their relative importance in communities.

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