Plants have a suite of traits that determine how well they can survive and compete in different environments. For example, there are traits that influence a plant’s ability to survive drought, to photosynthesize, to resist herbivores, to access specific nutrients, and so on. Ecological theory predicts that the local environment and competition have opposite effects on traits; plants should have similar traits to optimize growth in a given environment, but their traits should diverge in order to allow them to exploit different resources. In this experiment, we are using phytometers– plant species that differ in their traits — to test these hypotheses.
Additional Scientific Information
The experiment is designed to test a long-standing ecological model that posits that trait convergence should emerge in communities because of common environmental constraints, but that competition drives trait divergence. This model is the basis for most theories about diversity effects (diversity reduces invasibility, functional diversity increases ecosystem function, phylogenetic diversity increases ecological function, etc.). We will use phytometers planted with and without competitors across a number of old-field environments to test this model, comparing intra- and inter-specific trait expression across environments in the presence or absence of competition.
Principal Investigator: Benjamin Gilbert
Researcher(s): Deirdre Loughnan