Competition among plants: Concepts, individual-based modelling approaches, and a proposal for a future research strategy


Competition is a key process in plant populations and communities. We thus need, if we are to predict the responses of ecological systems to environmental change, a comprehensive and mechanistic understanding of plant competition. Considering competition, however, only at the population level is not sufficient because plant individuals usually are different, interact locally, and can adapt their behaviour to the current state of themselves and of their biotic and abiotic environment. Therefore, simulation models that are individual-based and spatially explicit are increasingly used for studying competition in plant systems. Many different individual-based modelling approaches exist to represent competition, but it is not clear how good they are in reflecting essential aspects of plant competition. We therefore first summarize current concepts and theories addressing plant competition. Then, we review individual-based approaches for modelling competition among plants. We distinguish between approaches that are used for more than 10 years and more recent ones. We identify three major gaps that need to be addressed more in the future: the effects of plants on their local environment, adaptive behaviour, and below-ground competition. To fill these gaps, the representation of plants and their interactions have to be more mechanistic than most existing approaches. Developing such new approaches is a challenge because they are likely to be more complex and to require more detailed knowledge and data on individual-level processes underlying competition. We thus need a more integrated research strategy for the future, where empirical and theoretical ecologists as well as computer scientists work together on formulating, implementing, parameterization, testing, comparing, and selecting the new approaches.

Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics, (9), 3,