3 years ago

Role of co-occurring competition and facilitation in plant spacing hydrodynamics in water-limited environments [Environmental Sciences]

Role of co-occurring competition and facilitation in plant spacing hydrodynamics in water-limited environments [Environmental Sciences]
Andrew C. Trautz, Ignacio Rodriguez-Iturbe, Tissa H. Illangasekare

Plant performance (i.e., fecundity, growth, survival) depends on an individual’s access to space and resources. At the community level, plant performance is reflected in observable vegetation patterning (i.e., spacing distance, density) often controlled by limiting resources. Resource availability is, in turn, strongly dependent on plant patterning mediated by competitive and facilitative plant–plant interactions. Co-occurring competition and facilitation has never been specifically investigated from a hydrodynamic perspective. To address this knowledge gap, and to overcome limitations of field studies, three intermediate-scale laboratory experiments were conducted using a climate-controlled wind tunnel–porous media test facility to simulate the soil–plant–atmosphere continuum. The spacing between two synthetic plants, a design consideration introduced by the authors in a recent publication, was varied between experiments; edaphic and mean atmospheric conditions were held constant. The strength of the above- and belowground plant–plant interactions changed with spacing distance, allowing the creation of a hydrodynamic conceptual model based on established ecological theories. Greatest soil water loss was observed for the experiment with the smallest spacing where competition dominated. Facilitation dominated at the intermediate spacing; little to no interactions were observed for the largest plant spacing. Results suggest that there exists an optimal spacing distance range that lowers plant environmental stress, thus improving plant performance through reduced atmospheric demand and conservation of available soil water. These findings may provide a foundation for improving our understanding of many climatological, ecohydrological, and hydrological problems pertaining to the hydrodynamics of water-limited environments where plant–plant interactions and community self-organization are important.

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