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Evolution of facilitation requires diverse communities


Diverse experimental plant communities are more productive than monocultures. The increase of this biodiversity effect over time has been attributed to evolutionary selection for complementarity in mixtures. Here we show that evolutionary selection for enhanced net facilitative plant interactions occurred only in mixtures, while evolutionary selection for reduced net competition occurred in mixtures with mixture coexistence history and monocultures with monoculture coexistence history. Widespread declines in natural and agricultural biodiversity could therefore compromise potential evolution of facilitative interactions, that is, cornerstone processes in nature conservation and the development of sustainable agriculture.

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Fig. 1: Experimental design.
Fig. 2: Less intense competition in monocultures and mixtures of respective coexistence histories, and more intense facilitation in communities with mixture history.


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This study was financially supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (PP00P3_170645 to C.S. and 130720 to B. Schmid) and the University of Zurich’s University Research Priority Programme on Global Change and Biodiversity. R.W.B. was supported by the Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services Division of the Scottish government through the Strategic Research Programme, 2016–2021. Thanks to D. Trujillo Villegas, L. Oesch, T. Zwimpfer, M. Furler, R. Husi, the gardeners of the Jena Experiment and student helpers for technical assistance.

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C.S. initiated the idea and conducted data analyses. D.Z.-D. designed and carried out the experiment and collected the data. C.S. prepared the manuscript with input from the other authors. All authors discussed the idea and the results before the preparation of the manuscript and conducted the revisions.

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Correspondence to Christian Schöb.

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Schöb, C., Brooker, R.W. & Zuppinger-Dingley, D. Evolution of facilitation requires diverse communities. Nat Ecol Evol 2, 1381–1385 (2018).

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