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Ann Bot. 2011 Jul;108(1):207-14. doi: 10.1093/aob/mcr109. Epub 2011 May 11.

Plants in a crowded stand regulate their height growth so as to maintain similar heights to neighbours even when they have potential advantages in height growth.

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Graduate School of Life Sciences, Tohoku University, Aoba, Sendai 980-8578, Japan.



Although being tall is advantageous in light competition, plant height growth is often similar among dominant plants in crowded stands (height convergence). Previous theoretical studies have suggested that plants should not overtop neighbours because greater allocation to supporting tissues is necessary in taller plants, which in turn lowers leaf mass fraction and thus carbon gain. However, this model assumes that a competitor has the same potential of height growth as their neighbours, which does not necessarily account for the fact that height convergence occurs even among individuals with various biomass.


Stands of individually potted plants of Chenopodium album were established, where target plants were lifted to overtop neighbours or lowered to be overtopped. Lifted plants were expected to keep overtopping because they intercept more light without increased allocation to stems, or to regulate their height to similar levels of neighbours, saving biomass allocation to the supporting organ. Lowered plants were expected to be suppressed due to the low light availability or to increase height growth so as to have similar height to the neighbours.


Lifted plants reduced height growth in spite of the fact that they received higher irradiance than others. Lowered plants, on the other hand, increased the rate of stem elongation despite the reduced irradiance. Consequently, lifted and lowered plants converged to the same height. In contrast to the expectation, lifted plants did not increase allocation to leaf mass despite the decreased stem length. Rather, they allocated more biomass to roots, which might contribute to improvement of mechanical stability or water status. It is suggested that decreased leaf mass fraction is not the sole cost of overtopping neighbours. Wind blowing, which may enhance transpiration and drag force, might constrain growth of overtopping plants.


The results show that plants in crowded stands regulate their height growth to maintain similar height to neighbours even when they have potential advantages in height growth. This might contribute to avoidance of stresses caused by wind blowing.

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