Plant communities and animals have typically performed better than
monocultures. The mechanisms for this, however, have been a mystery for a
long time. Biologists at the University of Zurich (UZH) have now identified
the genetic cause of these mechanisms.
Two UZH researchers, Samuel Wüst and Pascal Niklaus, addressed this question
by combining modern genetic and ecological approaches. They used systematic
crosses of varieties of Arabidopsis plants, which were grown in pots in
different combinations. A few weeks later, the researchers weighed the
resulting biomass, which allowed them to compare the growth of the plants.
As expected, pots with mixtures of different crosses were indeed more
productive on average.
The researchers related the yield gain in mixed communities to the genetic
makeup of the crosses. The genetic map they obtained helped them in
identifying parts of the genome that made the combination of plants good
mixed teams. They found that even the smallest genetic differences between
plants were enough to increase their combined yield.