Evidence for competition and cooperation among climbing plants

Jay M. Biernaskie


A plant's best strategy for acquiring resources may often depend on the identity of neighbours. Here, I ask whether plants adjust their strategy to local relatedness: individuals may cooperate (reduce competitiveness) with kin but compete relatively intensely with non-kin. In a greenhouse experiment with Ipomoea hederacea, neighbouring siblings from the same inbred line were relatively uniform in height; groups of mixed lines, however, were increasingly variable as their mean height increased. The reproductive yield of mixed and sibling groups was similar overall, but when adjusted to a common mean height and height inequality, the yield of mixed groups was significantly less. Where this difference in yield was most pronounced (among groups that varied most in height), mixed groups tended to allocate more mass to roots than comparable sibling groups, and overall, mixed groups produced significantly fewer seeds per unit mass of roots. These results suggest that, from the group perspective, non-kin may have wasted resources in below-ground competition at the expense of reproduction; kin groups, on the other hand, displayed the relative efficiency that is expected of reduced competitiveness.

  • Received August 17, 2010.
  • Accepted November 16, 2010.
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