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Cultivar Differences and Impact of Plant-Plant Competition on Temporal Patterns of Nitrogen and Biomass Accumulation

Schofield, Emily Jane and Rowntree, Jennifer K and Paterson, Eric and Brewer, Mark J and Price, Elizabeth AC and Brearley, Francis Q and Brooker, Rob W (2019) Cultivar Differences and Impact of Plant-Plant Competition on Temporal Patterns of Nitrogen and Biomass Accumulation. Frontiers in Plant Science, 10. ISSN 1664-462X

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Abstract

Current niche models cannot explain multi-species plant coexistence in complex ecosystems. One overlooked explanatory factor is within-growing season temporal dynamism of resource capture by plants. However, the timing and rate of resource capture are themselves likely to be mediated by plant-plant competition. This study used Barley (Hordeum sp.) as a model species to examine the impacts of intra-specific competition, specifically inter- and intra-cultivar competition on the temporal dynamics of resource capture. Nitrogen and biomass accumulation of an early and late cultivar grown in isolation, inter- or intra- cultivar competition were investigated using sequential harvests. We did not find changes in the temporal dynamics of biomass accumulation in response to competition. However, peak nitrogen accumulation rate was significantly delayed for the late cultivar by 14.5 days and advanced in the early cultivar by 0.5 days when in intra-cultivar competition; there were no significant changes when in inter-cultivar competition. This may suggest a form of kin recognition as the target plants appeared to identify their neighbors and only responded temporally to intra-cultivar competition. The Relative Intensity Index found competition occurred in both the intra- and inter- cultivar mixtures, but a positive Land Equivalence Ratio value indicated complementarity in the inter-cultivar mixtures compared to intra-cultivar mixtures. The reason for this is unclear but may be due to the timing of the final harvest and may not be representative of the relationship between the competing plants. This study demonstrates neighbor-identity-specific changes in temporal dynamism in nutrient uptake. This contributes to our fundamental understanding of plant nutrient dynamics and plant-plant competition whilst having relevance to sustainable agriculture. Improved understanding of within-growing season temporal dynamism would also improve our understanding of coexistence in complex plant communities.

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