Niches, rather than neutrality, structure a grassland pioneer guild.
ABSTRACT: Pioneer species are fast-growing, short-lived gap exploiters. They are prime candidates for neutral dynamics because they contain ecologically similar species whose low adult density is likely to cause widespread recruitment limitation, which slows competitive dynamics. However, many pioneer guilds appear to be differentiated according to seed size. In this paper, we compare predictions from a neutral model of community structure with three niche-based models in which trade-offs involving seed size form the basis of niche differentiation. We test these predictions using sowing experiments with a guild of seven pioneer species from chalk grassland. We find strong evidence for niche structure based on seed size: specifically large-seeded species produce fewer seeds but have a greater chance of establishing on a per-seed basis. Their advantage in establishment arises because there are more microsites suitable for their germination and early establishment and not directly through competition with other seedlings. In fact, seedling densities of all species were equally suppressed by the addition of competitors' seeds. By the adult stage, despite using very high sowing densities, there were no detectable effects of interspecific competition on any species. The lack of interspecific effects indicates that niche differentiation, rather than neutrality, prevails.
Project description:Quantifying the relative importance of the multiple processes that limit recruitment may hold the key to understanding tropical tree diversity. Here we couple theoretical models with a large-scale, multi-species seed-sowing experiment to assess the degree to which seed and establishment limitation shape patterns of tropical tree seedling recruitment in a central African forest. Of five randomly selected species (Pancovia laurentii, Staudtia kamerunensis, Manilkara mabokeensis, Myrianthus arboreas, and Entandophragma utile), seedling establishment and survival were low (means of 16% and 6% at 3 and 24 months, respectively), and seedling density increased with seed augmentation. Seedling recruitment was best explained by species identity and the interaction of site-by-species, suggesting recruitment probabilities vary among species and sites, and supporting the role of niche-based mechanisms. Although seed augmentation enhanced initial seedling density, environmental filtering and post-establishment mortality strongly limited seedling recruitment. The relative importance of seed and establishment limitation changed with seed and seedling density and through time. The arrival of seeds most strongly affected local recruitment when seeds were nearly absent from a site (? 1 seed m(2)), but was also important when seeds arrived in extremely high densities, overwhelming niche-based mortality factors. The strength of seed limitation and density-independent mortality decreased significantly over time, while density-dependent mortality showed the opposite trend. The varying strengths of seed and establishment limitation as a function of juvenile density and time emphasize the need to evaluate their roles through later stages of a tree's life cycle.
Project description:During the past decades, agro-biodiversity has markedly declined and some species are close to extinction in large parts of Europe. Reintroduction of rare arable plant species in suitable habitats could counteract this negative trend. The study investigates optimal sowing rates of three endangered species (Legousia speculum-veneris (L.) Chaix, Consolida regalis Gray, and Lithospermum arvense L.), in terms of establishment success, seed production, and crop yield losses.A field experiment with partial additive design was performed in an organically managed winter rye stand with study species added in ten sowing rates of 5-10,000 seeds m(-2). They were sown as a single species or as a three-species mixture (pure vs. mixed sowing) and with vs. without removal of spontaneous weeds. Winter rye was sown at a fixed rate of 350 grains m(-2). Performance of the study species was assessed as plant establishment and seed production. Crop response was determined as grain yield.Plant numbers and seed production were significantly affected by the sowing rate, but not by sowing type (pure vs. mixed sowing of the three study species), and weed removal. All rare arable plant species established and reproduced at sowing rates >25 seeds m(-2), with best performance of L. speculum-veneris. Negative density effects occurred to some extent for plant establishment and more markedly for seed production.The impact of the three study species on crop yield followed sigmoidal functions. Depending on the species, a yield loss of 10% occurred at >100 seeds m(-2). Synthesis and applications: The study shows that reintroduction of rare arable plants by seed transfer is a suitable method to establish them on extensively managed fields, for example, in organic farms with low nutrient level and without mechanical weed control. Sowing rates of 100 seeds m(-2) for C. regalis and L. arvense, and 50 seeds m(-2) for L. speculum-veneris are recommended, to achieve successful establishment with negligible crop yield losses.
Project description:A cornerstone of biology is that coexisting species evolve to occupy separate ecological niches. Classical theory predicts that interspecific competition should lead to all potential niches being occupied, yet observational data suggest that many niches are unfilled. Here we show that theory can be reconciled with observational data by reconceptualising competition in the Hutchinsonian niche space to distinguish between substitutable and non-substitutable resources. When resources are substitutable (e.g. seeds of different size), the components of competition along the niche axes combine multiplicatively, leading to a densely packed niche space. However, when resources are non-substitutable (e.g. seeds and nest sites), we show that the components of competition combine additively. Disruptive selection therefore limits niche overlap between non-substitutable niche axes, leaving most potential niches unfilled. A key corollary is that increasing the number of niche axes may greatly increase the number of potential niches but does not necessarily increase diversity. We discuss observational data that are consistent with our model and consider implications for systems with invasive species. Our work reinforces the power of competition to drive major ecological patterns: while niche space informs on species that might exist, only a small and potentially arbitrary subset will coexist in sympatry.
Project description:Cangas (ironstone outcrops) host a specialized flora, characterized by high degree of edaphic endemism and an apparent lack of natural history knowledge of its flora. Due to intense pressure from iron ore mining this ecosystem is under threat and in need of restoration. We studied seed functional traits that are relevant for restoration, translocation and ex situ conservation in 48 species from cangas in eastern Amazon. Were determined the thermal niche breadth, classified seed dormancy and determined methods to overcome it, determined the effect of seed storage on germination, tested the association between germination traits and functional groups, and tested whether seed traits are phylogenetically conserved. We found a broad interspecific variation in most seed traits, except for seed water content. Large interspecific variation in the temperature niche breadth was found among the studied species, but only four species, showed optimum germination at high temperatures of 35–40°C, despite high temperatures under natural conditions. Only 35% of the studied species produced dormant seeds. Mechanical scarification was effective in overcoming physical dormancy and application of gibberellic acid was effective in overcoming physiological dormancy in five species. For the 29 species that seeds were stored for 24 months, 76% showed decreases in the germination percentage. The weak association between germination traits and life-history traits indicate that no particular plant functional type requires specific methods for seed-based translocations. Exceptions were the lianas which showed relatively larger seeds compared to the other growth-forms. Dormancy was the only trait strongly related to phylogeny, suggesting that phylogenetic relatedness may not be a good predictor of regeneration from seeds in cangas. Our study provides support to better manage seed sourcing, use, storage and enhancement techniques with expected reduced costs and increased seedling establishment success.
Project description:Animal-mediated indirect interactions play a significant role in maintaining the biodiversity of plant communities. Less known is whether interspecific synchrony of seed rain can alter the indirect interactions of sympatric tree species. We assessed the seed dispersal success by tracking the fates of 21 600 tagged seeds from six paired sympatric tree species in both monospecific and mixed plots across 4 successive years in a subtropical forest. We found that apparent mutualism was associated with the interspecific synchrony of seed rain both seasonally and yearly, whereas apparent competition or apparent predation was associated with interspecific asynchrony of seed rain either seasonally or yearly. We did not find consistent associations of indirect interactions with seed traits. Our study suggests that the interspecific synchrony of seed rain plays a key role in the formation of animal-mediated indirect interactions, which, in turn, may alter the seasonal or yearly seed rain schedules of sympatric tree species.
Project description:The small size of Arabidopsis provides both opportunities and difficulties for laboratory research. Large numbers of plants can be grown in a relatively small area making it easy to observe and investigate interesting phenotypes. Conversely, their small size can also make it difficult to obtain large quantities of tissue for investigation using modern molecular techniques. Sowing large numbers of their seed can overcome this; however, their small seed size makes this difficult. Here we present the Vacuum Seed Sowing Manifold (VSSM), a simple device that can be printed using a 3D printer and provides a new high throughput method to sow large numbers of seeds at a range of densities.
Project description:Background:Invasive alien plants with long-lived dormant seed banks and fast growth rates are difficult to manage. Acacia mearnsii and Acacia melanoxylon are two such invaders in the southern Cape of South Africa which occasionally co-occur with a native, ecologically analogous species, Virgilia divaricata. We compared the performance of these three species to determine potential for the native species to be used in management of the invasives. Methods:We compared the study species in terms of (i) soil seed bank densities, their vertical distribution, and the viability of seeds underneath the canopies of mature trees; (ii) seedling growth from planted seeds over a period of three months; and (iii) growth rates of saplings over a period of 10 months in stands that have naturally regenerated in the field (these stands were dominated by A. mearnsii) and where saplings have been exposed to varying levels of competition from surrounding saplings. Results:Seed bank densities differed significantly among species but not among soil depth classes. Acacia mearnsii had the highest seed bank densities (mean of 7,596 seeds m-2), followed by V. divaricata (938 seeds m-2) and A. melanoxylon (274 seeds m-2). Seed viability was high (87-91%) in all three study species and did not differ significantly among species or soil depth classes. As seedlings, V. divaricata significantly outgrew A. mearnsii in terms of height, root and shoot dry mass, and root:shoot ratio. Relative growth (the relationship between growth in height and initial height) was negative in the seedlings of both species. Trends during the sapling stage were opposite to those during the seedling stage; A. mearnsii (but not A. melanoxylon) saplings significantly outgrew V. divaricata saplings in height, while relative growth rates were positive in all species. Sapling growth of all species was furthermore uninfluenced by the collective biomass of surrounding competitors. Discussion:Our findings suggest that amongst the measures considered, A. mearnsii's success as an invader is primarily attributable to its large seed banks, and secondly to its vigorous growth in height as saplings. However, the superior growth performance of V. divaricata seedlings and no apparent negative effect of competition from the acacias on sapling growth show promise for its use in integrated management of the acacias.
Project description:The exponential growth of the human population often causes the overexploitation of resources and disruption of ecological interactions. Here, we propose that the antagonist effect of humans on exploited species might be alleviated with the advent of a second predator species. We focused on the complex interactions between an endangered conifer (Araucaria araucana) and two seed exploiters: the Austral parakeet (Enicognathus ferrugineus) and human seed collectors. We tested the importance of partial seed consumption by parakeets as an escape from human seed harvesting. Although parakeets frequently ate whole seeds, a substantial proportion of the seeds found under trees were only partially eaten and avoided by human seed collectors. These seeds germinated at a similar proportion but faster than intact seeds under laboratory conditions. Our results revealed an overlooked mutualism between parakeets and an endangered tree. Incomplete seed eating by parakeets, plus selection against these eaten seeds by humans, may enhance regeneration possibilities for this conifer species subject to human seed collection, turning the scale of the antagonism-mutualism continuum to the mutualistic side. In this context, parakeets might be providing an important service in those forests subject to human harvesting by allowing a fraction of seeds to escape human predation.
Project description:Abstract Despite the ubiquity of introduced species, their long-term impacts on native plant abundance and diversity remain poorly understood. Coexistence theory offers a tool for advancing this understanding by providing a framework to link short-term individual measurements with long-term population dynamics by directly quantifying the niche and average fitness differences between species. We observed that a pair of closely related and functionally similar annual plants with different origins—native Plectritis congesta and introduced Valerianella locusta—co-occur at the community scale but rarely at the local scale of direct interaction. To test whether niche and/or fitness differences preclude local-scale long-term coexistence, we parameterized models of competitor dynamics with results from a controlled outdoor pot experiment, where we manipulated densities of each species. To evaluate the hypothesis that niche and fitness differences exhibit environmental dependency, leading to community-scale coexistence despite local competitive exclusion, we replicated this experiment with a water availability treatment to determine if this key limiting resource alters the long-term prediction. Water availability impacted population vital rates and intensities of intraspecific versus interspecific competition between P. congesta and V. locusta. Despite environmental influence on competition our model predicts that native P. congesta competitively excludes introduced V. locusta in direct competition across water availability conditions because of an absence of stabilizing niche differences combined with a difference in average fitness, although this advantage weakens in drier conditions. Further, field data demonstrated that P. congesta densities have a negative effect on V. locusta seed prediction. We conclude that native P. congesta limits abundances of introduced V. locusta at the direct-interaction scale, and we posit that V. locusta may rely on spatially dependent coexistence mechanisms to maintain coexistence at the site scale. In quantifying this competitive outcome our study demonstrates mechanistically how a native species may limit the abundance of an introduced invader. We observed that closely related annual plants with different origins—native Plectritis congesta and introduced Valerianella locusta—co-occur at community scales but rarely at the scale of direct interactions. We parameterized models of competitor dynamics to quantify niche and average fitness differences between these species with results from an experiment where we manipulated competitor densities and water availability. Our model, corroborated with field data, predicts that P. congesta competitively excludes V. locusta in direct competition across water availability conditions. In quantifying this outcome our study demonstrates mechanistically how a native species may limit abundance of an introduced invader.
Project description:Competition is a driving force regulating communities often considered an intermittent phenomenon, difficult to verify and potentially driven by environmental disturbances. Insecticides are agents of environmental disturbance that can potentially change ecological relationships and competitive outcomes, but this subject has seldom been examined. As the co-existing cereal grain beetle species Sitophilus zeamais Motschulsky and Rhyzopertha dominica F. share a common realized niche, directly competing for the same resources, they were used as models in our study. Intraspecific competition experiments were performed with increasing insect densities and insecticide doses in additive and replacement series using various density combinations of both beetle species maintained on insecticide-free or -sprayed grains. Insecticide-mediated release from competitive stress was not observed in our study of intraspecific competition in grain beetles. The insecticide enhanced the effect of insect density, particularly for the maize weevil S. zeamais, further impairing population growth at high densities. Therefore, insecticide susceptibility increased with intraspecific competition favoring insecticide efficacy. However, the effect of insecticide exposure on competitive interaction extends beyond intraspecific competition, affecting interspecific competition as well. Sitophilus zeamais was the dominant species when in interspecific competition prevailing in natural conditions (without insecticide exposure), but the dominance and species prevalence shifted from S. zeamais to R. dominica under insecticide exposure. Therefore, high conspecific densities favored insecticide efficacy, but the strength of the relationship differs with the species. In addition, the insecticide mediated a shift in species dominance and competition outcome indicating that insecticides are relevant mediators of species interaction, potentially influencing community composition and raising management concerns as potential cause of secondary pest outbreaks.