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Intraspecific aggregation alters competitive interactions in experimental plant communities

Ecological Society of America
Publication Date
  • Biology
  • Ecology


We tested the prediction from spatial competition models that intraspecific aggregation may promote coexistence and thus maintain biodiversity with experimental communities of four annual species. Monocultures, three-species mixtures, and the four-species mixture were sown at two densities and with either random or intraspecifically aggregated distributions. There was a hierarchy of competitive abilities among the four species. The weaker competitors showed higher aboveground biomass in the aggregated distribution compared to the random distribution, especially at high density. In one species, intraspecific aggregation resulted in an 86% increase in the number of flowering individuals and a 171% increase in the reproductive biomass at high density. The competitively superior species had a lower biomass in the aggregated distribution than in the random distribution at high density. The data support the hypothesis that the spatial distribution of plants profoundly affects competition in such a way that weaker competitors increase their fitness while stronger competitors are suppressed when grown in the neighborhood of conspecifics. This implies that the spatial arrangement of plants in a community can be an important determinant of species coexistence and biodiversity.

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