Ecotypic differentiation determines the outcome of positive interactions in a dryland annual plant species

Liancourt, Pierre
TielbAsrger, Katja
Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics
Publication Year: 
Positive interactions among plants have rarely been investigated with respect to their evolutionary consequences and vice versa. The outcome of facilitative interactions depends on the competitive ability and stress tolerance of the species. We tested whether this also applies to populations of conspecifics that are locally adapted to different environments and thereby differ in these traits. We hypothesised that ecotypes from less stressful environments experience a greater effect of facilitation when grown in stressful environments compared to populations adapted to these conditions. Seeds of two ecotypes of the annual grass species, Brachypodium distachyon, were collected from Mediterranean and arid origins and transplanted at an arid environment within the species' distribution range. To examine the effect of biotic interactions on these ecotypes, we transplanted the individuals with and without the presence of the shrub Gymnocarpos decander (underneath or away from the shrub), and with and without the presence of annual vegetation (removal experiment). We examined the effect of these interactions on the two B. distachyon ecotypes by comparison of emergence success, biomass, and survival to reproduction. The presence of shrubs had a positive effect on all three variables in both ecotypes. Facilitation by shrubs enabled individuals from Mediterranean origin to grow and reproduce in arid conditions. Unlike the locals, they failed to survive to reproduction away from the shrubs, because of the markedly shorter growing season in open areas. The annual vegetation did not affect emergence or survival to reproduction in either ecotype; however, the positive effect of shrubs on biomass was reduced in the presence annual vegetation in the Mediterranean ecotype. This demonstrates that ecotypes adapted to arid conditions respond differently to these biotic interactions compared to Mediterranean populations. We argue that facilitation may have important evolutionary consequences by enabling maladapted ecotypes to invade and colonize stressful habitats.
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Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics
Resource Type: 
Document Type: 
Journal Issue/Article
Grassland Society of Southern Africa

The Grassland Society of Southern Africa (GSSA) is involved and concerned with the science and practice of range and pasture management. This broad field involves primarily the use and conservation of natural resources. It encompasses applied fields such as livestock production, wildlife management, nature conservation, water catchment management and range and mine-dump rehabilitation. The disciplines include, amongst others, ecology, botany zoology, range and pasture science, animal science, soil science and genetics. This collection includes journal articles from the African Journal of Range and Forage Science as well as related articles and reports from throughout the Southern African region.