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Fast and furious: Early differences in growth rate drive short-term plant dominance and exclusion under eutrophication
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  • Zhang Pengfei ,
  • Mariet Hefting,
  • Merel Soons,
  • George Kowalchuk,
  • Mark Rees,
  • Andrew Hector,
  • Lindsay Turnbull,
  • Xiaolong Zhou,
  • Zhi Guo,
  • Chengjin Chu,
  • Guozhen Du,
  • Yann Hautier
Zhang Pengfei
Lanzhou University
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Mariet Hefting
Utrecht University
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Merel Soons
Utrecht University
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George Kowalchuk
Utrecht University
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Mark Rees
Sheffield University
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Andrew Hector
University of Oxford
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Lindsay Turnbull
Oxford University
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Xiaolong Zhou
Xinjiang University
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Zhi Guo
Lanzhou University
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Chengjin Chu
Sun Yat-Sen University
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Guozhen Du
Lanzhou University
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Yann Hautier
Universiteit Utrecht
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Peer review status:ACCEPTED

09 Mar 2020Submitted to Ecology and Evolution
10 Mar 2020Submission Checks Completed
10 Mar 2020Assigned to Editor
25 Mar 2020Reviewer(s) Assigned
14 Apr 2020Review(s) Completed, Editorial Evaluation Pending
14 Apr 2020Editorial Decision: Revise Minor
05 Jun 20201st Revision Received
06 Jun 2020Submission Checks Completed
06 Jun 2020Assigned to Editor
06 Jun 2020Review(s) Completed, Editorial Evaluation Pending
08 Jun 2020Reviewer(s) Assigned
30 Jun 2020Editorial Decision: Revise Minor
20 Jul 20202nd Revision Received
21 Jul 2020Submission Checks Completed
21 Jul 2020Assigned to Editor
21 Jul 2020Review(s) Completed, Editorial Evaluation Pending
22 Jul 2020Editorial Decision: Accept

Abstract

1. The reduction of plant diversity following eutrophication threatens many ecosystems worldwide. Yet, the mechanisms by which species are lost following nutrient enrichment are still not completely understood, nor are the details of when such mechanisms act during the growing season, which hampers understanding and the development of mitigation strategies. 2. Using a common garden competition experiment, we found that early-season differences in growth rates among five perennial grass species measured in monoculture predicted short-term competitive dominance in pairwise combinations and that this effect was stronger under a fertilisation treatment. 3. We also examined the role of early-season growth rate in determining the outcome of competition along an experimental nutrient gradient in an alpine meadow. Early differences in growth rate between species predicted short-term competitive dominance under both ambient and fertilized conditions and competitive exclusion under fertilized conditions. 4. The results of these two studies suggests that plant species growing faster during the early stage of the growing season gain a competitive advantage over species that initially grow more slowly, and that this advantage is magnified under fertilisation. This finding is consistent with the theory of asymmetric competition for light in which fast-growing species can intercept incident light and hence outcompete and exclude slower-growing (and hence shorter) species. We predict that the current chronic nutrient inputs into many terrestrial ecosystems worldwide will reduce plant diversity and maintain low biodiversity state by continuously favouring fast-growing species. Biodiversity management strategies should focus on controlling nutrient inputs and reducing the growth of fast-growing species early in the season.