Increasing plant diversity of experimental grasslands alters the age and growth of Plantago lanceolata from younger and faster to older and slower

8 March 2019

Roeder, Anna; Schweingruber, Fritz; Fischer, Markus; Roscher, Christiane

The persistence of plant populations depends on the ability of individuals to cope with the conditions provided by the community. So far, it is not known whether differences in the diversity and composition of plant communities affect the age structure of plant populations or the expression of stem anatomical traits reflecting investment into plant growth and storage. We analyzed annual growth rings in the secondary xylem and measured stem anatomical traits in individuals from 18 populations of Plantago lanceolata growing in a 12-year old grassland biodiversity experiment (Jena Experiment). Plant individuals of P. lanceolata were on average older and reproduced later with increasing species richness. Individuals of P. lanceolata were slightly younger and the age distribution within populations skewed to younger individuals in the presence of grasses. The presence of legumes did not affect mean age, but led to a more even age distribution within populations. The width of growth-related tissues (xylem, phloem, phellem) decreased with increasing species richness. Plant diversity-effects on storage-related tissues (pith, cortex) were less consistent, as pith showed increasing width with species richness, while cortex did not change with plant diversity. Our results imply that plant diversity effects on population age structure and the expression of stem anatomical traits of P. lanceolata reflect a trade-off: growth and turnover is fast at low diversity (younger age, higher allocation to growth-related tissue, faster generative reproduction), while it is slow at high diversity (older age, higher allocation to storage-related tissue, later generative reproduction).