Researchers at University of Arizona found that plants that are highly efficient in water use thrive in an environment when they have to compete against those of their species that have high growth rates and low water-use efficiency. (Agencies)
“Some plants might actually do better when conditions are not optimal," said Jennifer Gremer, one of the researchers.
The researchers investigated the effects of two important variables - competition among plant communities and water usage - on three abundant plants native to the Sonoran Desert, which covers large parts of Arizona in the US.
By measuring plant biomass of shoots, stems, and roots, they interpreted how well plants responded to different conditions, such as high and low water availability and competition.
"We discovered that some plants are better at competing in wet environments while others are better in dry environments. We were able to predict this pattern by looking at efficiency of water use and growth rate to determine how they would react to limited resources," said the study published the American Journal of Botany.
"A major challenge in ecology is to find traits or characteristics that can be used as indicators to predict how plants will respond without having to study each and every individual species. In our system, we have had remarkable success at doing that," added Gremer.
With the onset of climate change, the deserts are getting hotter and drier, and have been a focus of global change models.
"The time has come to understand the role of competition and water availability in long-term patterns of diversity in our system," Gremer said in the paper.
However, these traits may not be the most important factors in all systems. Increased understanding of how these traits mediate competition under different conditions, for both native and non-native plants, is important considering the threats of climate change and invasive species, the study concluded.
Researchers at University of Arizona found that plants that are highly efficient in water use thrive in an environment when they have to compete against those of their species that have high growth rates and low water-use efficiency.