Concept: Love Thy Neighbour
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.
By associating closely with others to form a group, an animal can benefit from a number of advantages including reduced risk of predation, amelioration of environmental conditions, and increased reproductive success, but at the price of reduced resources. Although made up of individual members, an aggregation often displays novel effects that do not manifest at the level of the individual organism. Here we show that very simple behaviour in intertidal mussels shows new effects in dense aggregations but not in isolated individuals. Perna perna and Mytilus galloprovincialis are gaping (periodic valve movement during emersion) and non-gaping mussels respectively. P. perna gaping behaviour had no effect on body temperatures of isolated individuals, while it led to increased humidity and decreased temperatures in dense groups (beds). Gaping resulted in cooler body temperatures for P. perna than M. galloprovincialis when in aggregations, while solitary individuals exhibited the highest temperatures. Gradients of increasing body temperature were detected from the center to edges of beds, but M. galloprovincialis at the edge had the same temperature as isolated individuals. Furthermore, a field study showed that during periods of severe heat stress, mortality rates of mussels within beds of the gaping P. perna were lower than those of isolated individuals or within beds of M. galloprovincialis, highlighting the determinant role of gaping on fitness and group functioning. We demonstrate that new effects of very simple individual behaviour lead to amelioration of abiotic conditions at the aggregation level and that these effects increase mussel resistance to thermal stress.