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PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e50822. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0050822. Epub 2012 Nov 30.

Effects of ultraviolet-B irradiance on intraspecific competition and facilitation of plants: self-thinning, size inequality, and phenotypic plasticity.

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Key Laboratory of Resource Biology and Biotechnology in Western China (Northwest University), Ministry of Education, Xi'an, China.


(1) The effects of facilitation on the structure and dynamics of plant populations have not been studied so widely as competition. The UV-B radiation, as a typical environmental factor causing stress, may result in direct stress and facilitation. (2) The effects of UV-B radiation on intraspecific competition and facilitation were investigated based on the following three predictions on self-thinning, size inequality, and phenotypic plasticity: i) Self-thinning is the reduction in density that results from the increase in the mean biomass of individuals in crowded populations, and is driven by competition. In this study, the mortality rate of the population is predicted to decrease from UV-B irradiance. ii) The size inequality of a population increases with competition intensity because larger individuals receive a disproportionate share of resources, thereby leaving limited resources for smaller individuals. The second hypothesis assumes that direct stress decreases the size inequality of the population. iii) Phenotypic plasticity is the ability to alter one's morphology in response to environmental changes. The third hypothesis assumes that certain morphological indices can change among the trade-offs between competition, facilitation, and stress. These predictions were tested by conducting a field pot experiment using mung beans, and were supported by the following results: (3) UV-B radiation increased the survival rate of the population at the end of self-thinning. However, this result was mainly due to direct stress rather than facilitation. (4) Just as competitor, facilitation was also asymmetric. It increased the size inequality of populations during self-thinning, whereas stress decreased the size inequality. (5) Direct stress and facilitation influence plants differently on various scales. Stress inhibited plant growth, whereas facilitation showed the opposite on an individual scale. Stress increased survival rate, whereas facilitation increased individual variability on the population scale. (6) Trade-offs between competitions, facilitation, and direct stress varied in different growing stages.

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