Above- and below-ground competition effects of two heathland species: Implications for growth and response to herbivory in birch saplings

J. Millett, A. J. Hester, P. Millard, A. J. S. McDonald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Citations (Scopus)


We examined experimentally the effect of competition from Calluna vulgaris or Molinia caerulea on Betula pubescens saplings subjected to simulated mammalian browsing damage. We tested three hypotheses: 1. that responses to competition will follow the balanced growth hypothesis with the predominant competition effect being below-ground, resulting in increased allocation to roots; 2. that above-ground competition effects from C. vulgaris are greater than M. caerulea, resulting in differences in growth allocation; 3. that, when only B. pubescens saplings are damaged, herbivory reduces its ability to compete with both species.

We grew B. pubescens saplings in the presence of below- or above- and below-ground interactions from C. vulgaris or M. caerulea. Saplings were also subjected to simulated browsing by clipping (50% of current year's growth), either presenescence or at bud-burst. We measured the morphology and dry mass allocation response of the saplings one year after the browsing was applied.

Competition reduced sapling dry mass by approximately 50%, but C. vulgaris reduced dry mass to a greater extent than M. caerulea. This difference was due to a smaller impact of M. caerulea shoots than C. vulgaris shoots on birch growth. Saplings compensated for browsing damage, resulting in no difference in dry mass one year after damage. However, sapling morphological responses to browsing damage were dependent on the competing species.

Despite the large competitive effect of below-ground interactions, saplings did not increase allocation to root growth as predicted. Additionally, in response to above-ground interactions from M. caeruela, saplings increased allocation to root growth relative to those growing with C. vulgaris. As such, growth responses to competition were not explained by the balanced growth hypothesis.

This study highlights the importance of patterns, as well as intensity, of competition in determining plant responses to inter-specific interactions. (C) 2007 Gesellschaft fur Okologie. Published by Elsevier GmbH. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-66
Number of pages12
JournalBasic and Applied Ecology
Issue number1
Early online date16 Feb 2007
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2008


  • Betula pubescens
  • competition
  • facilitation
  • herbivory
  • plant interactions
  • tree saplings
  • betula-pendula roth
  • plant competition
  • shoot competition
  • pubescens EHRH
  • communities
  • intensity
  • gradient
  • biomass
  • regeneration


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