Competition, traits and resource depletion in plant communities

Oecologia. 2009 Jul;160(4):747-55. doi: 10.1007/s00442-009-1333-x. Epub 2009 Apr 8.


Although of primary importance to explain plant community structure, general relationships between plant traits, resource depletion and competitive outcomes remain to be quantified across species. Here, we used a comparative approach to test whether instantaneous measurements of plant traits can capture both the amount of resources depleted under plant cover over time (competitive effect) and the way competitors perceived this resource depletion (competitive response). We performed a large competition experiment in which phytometers from a single grass species were transplanted within 18 different monocultures grown in a common-garden experiment, with a time-integrative quantification of light and water depletion over the phytometers' growing season. Resource-capturing traits were measured on both phytometers (competitive response traits) and monocultures (competitive effect traits). The total amounts of depleted light and water availabilities over the season strongly differed among monocultures; they were best estimated by instantaneous measurements of height and rooting depth, respectively, performed when either light or water became limiting. Specific leaf area and leaf water potential, two competitive response traits measured at the leaf level, were good predictors of changes in phytometer performance under competition, and reflected the amount of light and water, respectively, perceived by plants throughout their lifespan. Our results demonstrated the relevance of instantaneous measures of plant traits as indicators of resource depletion over time, validating the trait-based approach for competition ecology.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Ecology / methods*
  • Ecosystem*
  • France
  • Models, Biological
  • Plant Development*
  • Plant Leaves / anatomy & histology
  • Plant Leaves / metabolism
  • Plants / metabolism
  • Species Specificity
  • Sunlight
  • Water / metabolism


  • Water