Canopy occupancy: How much of the space in plant communities is filled?
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A major gap in our knowledge of plant communities is how much of their volume is occupied by plant material (stem, leaf or reproductive structure). This is basic knowledge and may be crucial for the concept of competition for space. We sampled two grassland communities and two shrublands in both Italy and New Zealand. The height of the canopy was measured by a point quadrat method, and the volume of plant material, after cutting, by displacement of water. From 0.5% to 2.9% of the canopy was occupied by plant material. Occupancy was lower in the Italian communities, which we tentatively attribute to the climate. It did not differ significantly between grasslands and shrublands. Our data suggest that physical space is probably never limiting by itself in terrestrial higher-plant communities, so that competition for space, distinct from competition for resources such as light, water and nutrients, is not likely to exist.
KeywordsCommunity volume Competition for space Plant volume Space filling
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