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Oecologia. 2005 Oct;145(4):619-28. Epub 2005 Oct 13.

Spatial patterns and species performances in experimental plant communities.

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  • 1Department of Integrative Biology, Section of Conservation Biology, University of Basel, St. Johanns-Vorstadt 10, Basel, Switzerland.


Amongst the various hypotheses that challenged to explain the coexistence of species with similar life histories, theoretical, and empirical studies suggest that spatial processes may slow down competitive exclusion and hence promote coexistence even in the absence of evident trade-offs and frequent disturbances. We investigated the effects of spatial pattern and density on the relative importance of intra- and interspecific competition in a field experiment. We hypothesized that weak competitors increased biomass and seed production within neighborhoods of conspecifics, while stronger competitors would show increased biomass and seed production within neighborhoods of heterospecifics. Seeds of four annual plant species (Capsella bursa-pastoris, Stachys annua, Stellaria media, Poa annua) were sown in two spatial patterns (aggregated vs. random) and at two densities (low vs. high) in three different species combinations (monocultures, three and four species mixtures). There was a hierarchy in biomass production among the four species and C. bursa-pastoris and S. media were among the weak competitors. Capsella and Stellaria showed increased biomass production and had more individuals in the aggregated compared to the random pattern, especially when both superior competitors (S. annua, P. annua) were present. For P. annua we observed considerable differences among species combinations and unexpected pattern effects. Our findings support the hypothesis that weak competitors increase their fitness when grown in the neighborhood of conspecifics, and suggested that for the weakest competitors the species identity is not important and all other species are best avoided through intraspecific aggregation. In addition, our data suggest that the importance of spatial pattern for the other competitors might not only depend on the position within the hierarchy but also on the identity of neighbor species, species characteristics, below ground interactions, and other nonspatial factors.

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