CONTRARY to the long-held belief that plants in the natural world are always in competition, new research has found that in harsh environments bigger plants help smaller ones survive, and in return they help them to thrive.
The first study to examine plant interactions in a hostile environment over their lifespan found that plants sheltering seedlings actually help the smaller plants survive and are more successful themselves – a process in ecology called facilitation.
The study, led by Dr Rocio Perez- Barrales at the University of Portsmouth and Dr Alicia Montesinos-Navarro at the Desertification Research Center in Valencia, Spain, looked at adult and seedling plants in the ‘ecological desert’ of gypsum soil in the south-east of Spain. Dr Perez-Barrales said: “If you’re a seedling in a barren landscape – say, at the top of a mountain or a sand dune, for example – and you’re lucky enough to end up underneath a big plant, your chances of survival are certainly better than if you landed somewhere else on your own.
‘Nurse’ plant shields seedling
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January 18, 2020