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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Love thy neighbour: facilitation through an alternative signalling modality in plants

Monica Gagliano1* and Michael Renton2

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Evolutionary Biology, School of Animal Biology, University of Western Australia, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia

2 School of Plant Biology, University of Western Australia, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia

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BMC Ecology 2013, 13:19  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-13-19

Published: 7 May 2013

Abstract

Background

Both competitive and facilitative interactions between species play a fundamental role in shaping natural communities. A recent study showed that competitive interactions between plants can be mediated by some alternative signalling channel, extending beyond those channels studied so far (i.e. chemicals, contact and light). Here, we tested whether such alternative pathway also enables facilitative interactions between neighbouring plant species. Specifically, we examined whether the presence of a ‘good’ neighbouring plant like basil positively influenced the germination of chilli seeds when all known signals were blocked. For this purpose, we used a custom-designed experimental set-up that prevented above- and below-ground contact and blocked chemical and light-mediated signals normally exchange by plants.

Results

We found that seed germination was positively enhanced by the presence of a ‘good’ neighbour, even when the known signalling modalities were blocked, indicating that light, touch or chemical signals may not be indispensible for different plant species to sense each other’s presence.

Conclusions

We propose that this alternative signalling modality operates as a general indicator of the presence of heterospecifics, enabling seeds to detect and identify a neighbour prior to engaging in a more finely-tuned, but potentially more costly, response.

Keywords:
Facilitation; Species interactions; Signalling