Germinating quickly, growing fast, withstanding competitors and defending against herbivores - already since decades, ecologists have suggested that these are important characteristics of successful plants.
In greenhouse experiments, the characteristics of the different plant species are closely examined.
Anne Kempel, Institute of Plant Sciences, University of Bern.
However, it has also been suggested that species characteristics are less important as determinants of plant establishment success than other factors such as seed availability or environmental characteristics, like dense vegetation.
In Bern, researchers of the Institute of Plant Sciences and the University of Konstanz carefully examined the importance of those species characteristics, and provide evidence that they affect – more strongly than has been anticipated – success or failure of species.
Field and greenhouse experiments combined
Some unique features of the Bernese study are the high number of used plant species and the sophisticated combination of several independent experiments. In a comprehensive field experiment, the scientists sowed more than 90 different native and exotic plant species into 16 grasslands with different vegetation densities in the Canton of Bern.
They varied the introduced seed number and manipulated soil disturbance. Then, they observed carefully which of the sown plant species established in the field. At the same time, the scientists conducted several greenhouse experiments to assess, as accurately as possible, the characteristics of each species – from seed mass and germination rate to the speed of growth, the competitive ability and the resistance against herbivores, like caterpillars.
«Although it is known that herbivory and competition are relevant for plant establishment, the response of many plants to those factors is rarely measured due to the large amount of work», comments Markus Fischer, professor of plant ecology at the University of Bern. By combining the results from the field and the greenhouse, the most important species traits and environmental characteristics for establishment success could be identified.
The winners are well defended against herbivores
The Bernese plant scientists could show that at the beginning of the experiment mainly species with a high seed mass germinated in the grasslands. In addition, a high number of seeds sown increased early establishment success. However, the importance of factors changed during the course of the study.
«Interestingly, at the end, mainly traits related to interactions between plants and plants or plants and animals were important», reports Anne Kempel, first author of the study. Accordingly, plants that were well defended against voracious insects were the most successful ones in the long run.
«Our results are in line with general theories on community assembly and invasion success», explains Mark van Kleunen, the leader of the project. First, the non-living environment, the so called «abiotic filter», constrains establishment of species without certain physiological adaptations.
The germinated species then have to pass the so-called «biotic filter» - which means that they have to withstand herbivores, pathogens and competitors to persist in a community. «Our study shows that this second filter is of major importance, and is even gaining in importance with time» says van Kleunen.
The study, now published in «Proceedings of the National Acadamy of Sciences» helps to better understand the assembly of plant communities. According to the researchers the results can also contribute to the early detection of potentially new invasive species – for instance when plant species introduced for horticultural purposes, prior to accreditation, are tested for their traits. «With such a screening, future plant invasions may eventually be prevented in Switzerland», says Kempel.Information on the publication:
Nathalie Matter | Universität Bern
For a chimpanzee, one good turn deserves another
27.06.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Mathematik in den Naturwissenschaften (MPIMIS)
New method to rapidly map the 'social networks' of proteins
27.06.2017 | Salk Institute
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
28.06.2017 | Awards Funding
28.06.2017 | Earth Sciences
28.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy