Plants compete for sunlight and soil resources. But they also cooperate for the good of the community to which they belong.
When the soil is rich and sunlight hard to get, plants naturally compete. Conversely, in poor conditions, helping one another raises the odds for survival of both a nurturing plant and its beneficiaries.
Spanish biologist Rocio Pérez-Barrales: “If you’re a seedling in a barren landscape – the top of a mountain or a sand dune, for example – and you’re lucky enough to end up underneath a big plant, your chances of survival are certainly better than if you landed somewhere on your own. When an established large plant, called a ‘nurse’, shields a seedling, it also produces more flowers than the same plants of similar size growing on their own.”
Especially in a tough environment, having more plants around improves soil quality and attracts more pollinators. Plants appreciate the value of biodiversity.
Alicia Montesinos-Navarro et al, “Benefits for nurse and facilitated plants emerge when interactions are considered along the entire life-span,” Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics (December 2019).
“Plants might be helping each other more than thought,” ScienceDaily (13 November 2019).