Plants appear to produce an excess of leaves, stems and roots beyond what would provide the most efficient harvest of available resources. One way to understand this overproduction of tissues is that excess tissue production provides a competitive advantage. Game theoretic models predict overproduction of all tissues compared with non-game theoretic models because they explicitly account for this indirect competitive benefit. Here, we present a simple game theoretic model of plants simultaneously competing to harvest carbon and nitrogen. In the model, a plant's fitness is influenced by its own leaf, stem and root production, and the tissue production of others, which produces a triple tragedy of the commons. Our model predicts (i) absolute net primary production when compared with two independent global datasets; (ii) the allocation relationships to leaf, stem and root tissues in one dataset; (iii) the global distribution of biome types and the plant functional types found within each biome; and (iv) ecosystem responses to nitrogen or carbon fertilization. Our game theoretic approach removes the need to define allocation or vegetation type a priori but instead lets these emerge from the model as evolutionarily stable strategies. We believe this to be the simplest possible model that can describe plant production.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3538887.
- Received September 9, 2016.
- Accepted October 10, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.