Plant competition for sunlight

Andrew Nevai (Department of Mathematics, University of California, Los Angeles)

(October 27, 2005 10:30 AM - 11:30 AM)

Plant competition for sunlight


Despite the fact that all terrestrial plants require the same essential resources (such as mineral nutrients, water, and sunlight), we often observe multiple plant species successfully living closely together. In this talk, we investigate the role of canopy partitioning (or vertical leaf placement) as a possible mechanism by which clonal plant species with different competitive abilities may coexist.

I will begin by showing how plant competition for sunlight fits within the mathematical framework of resource competition. Next, I will present an analytic model of clonal plant population growth that emphasizes the role of light capture by leaves at different heights. This model's extension to two species competition is realized by a system of Kolmogorov integro-differential equations that are coupled through the species' vertical leaf density functions. I will then describe some mathematical methods that we use to determine the outcome of competition between two model species in the interesting but difficult case that they possess overlapping vertical leaf profiles. If time permits, I will also indicate some ways in which the biological realism of this model can be increased without altering its qualitative conclusions. This work is in collaboration with Richard R. Vance of the University of California, Los Angeles.