Question: Does disturbance reduce competition intensity and thus favour weak competitors that are presumably less affected by disturbance than strong competitors?
Methods: We used a single flooding event with increasing duration to simulate disturbance with increasing intensity. Six flood-plain grass species, typical of different flood regimes were grown in monocultures and in an additive species mixture. Flooding took place early in the first growing season and changes were monitored until the end of the second growing season.
Results: Longer flooding durations initially decreased competition, but only a single species (Agrostis) increased its abundance in mixtures after flooding. The two weakest competitors in our selection (Poa trivialis and Elytrigia repens) failed to benefit from flooding because direct losses from flooding exceeded gains from reduced competition. Accordingly, we found no trade-off between flooding tolerance and competitive ability indicating that floods affect strong and weak competitors equally, although some species tolerated floods better than others.
Conclusions: Since competition is only temporarily weakened after disturbance, increased competitive ability relative to other species may provide a more effective strategy for persistence in flood-disturbed sites. Above-ground runners seem an important prerequisite for enhanced competitive ability of clonal species in flood-disturbed sites.
Nomenclature: van der Meijden (1996).
Abbreviations: lnRR = natural log of the response ratio; LT50 = number of days (‘lethal time’) after which 50% of individuals had died.