Competition as a demolition derby: Why tolerating competitors is more important than suppressing them

Atwater, Callaway & Xiao

Our current paradigm holds that plants can win at competition either by being more tolerant of competition with neighbors, or by suppressing their neighbors directly. Here, we show that this is true when only two plants compete. When competition is multiplayer, benefits of neighbor suppression are very weak. Recent field studies are beginning to show that competitive tolerance is more ecologically important and faster to evolve than suppression among competitors. Our research provides the first and only theoretical model that predicts why this might be the case. Neighbor suppression sets off of indirect effects that dramatically reduce its direct benefits. Our results show that competition must be viewed in a multiplayer context, and that it is a complex, multilevel process in which population-level interactions are at least as important as individual-level interactions.