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Oecologia. 2005 Dec;146(3):337-49. Epub 2005 Oct 27.

Competitive strategies in adult beech and spruce: space-related foliar carbon investment versus carbon gain.

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Department of Ecology, Ecophysiology of Plants, TU München, Am Hochanger 13, 85354 Freising, Germany.


In Central Europe, Fagus sylvatica and Picea abies represent contrasting extremes in foliage type, crown structure and length of growing season. In order to examine the competitive strategies of these two co-occurring species, we tested the following hypotheses: (1) the space occupied by the foliage of sun branches is characterized by greater foliar mass investment compared to shade branches, (2) the carbon (C) gain per unit of occupied space is greater in sun than in shade branches, and (3) annual C and water costs of the foliage for sustaining the occupied space are low, wherever C gain per unit of occupied space is low. These were investigated in a mature forest in Southern Germany. The examination was based on the annual assessment of space-related resource investments and gains of the foliage. The foliated space around branches was regarded as the relevant volume with respect to aboveground resource availability. Occupied crown space per standing foliage mass was higher in shade compared to sun branches of beech, whereas no difference existed in crown volume per foliage mass between sun and shade branches of spruce (hypothesis 1 accepted for beech but rejected for spruce). However, beech occupied more space per foliage mass than spruce. The C gain per occupied crown volume was greater in sun than in shade branches (hypothesis 2 accepted) but did not differ between species. The amount of occupied space per respiratory and transpiratory costs did not differ between species or between sun and shade branches. In beech and spruce, the proportion of foliage investment in the annual C balance of sun and shade branches remained rather stable, whereas respiratory costs distinctly increased in shade foliage. Hence, shade branches were costly structures to occupy space, achieving only low and even negative C balances (rejection of hypothesis 3), which conflicts with the claimed C autonomy of branches. Our findings suggest that competitiveness is determined by the standing foliage mass and the annual branch volume increment rather than annual investments in foliage. Expressing competitiveness in terms of space-related resource investments versus returns, as demonstrated here, has the potential of promoting mechanistic understanding of plant-plant interactions.

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