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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Journal : Facilitation in plant communities: the past, the present, and the future

Journal of Ecology

Volume 96 Issue 1 Page 18-34, January 2008

To cite this article: Rob W. Brooker, Fernando T. Maestre, Ragan M. Callaway, Christopher L. Lortie, Lohengrin A. Cavieres, Georges Kunstler, Pierre Liancourt, Katja Tielbörger, Justin M. J. Travis, Fabien Anthelme, Cristina Armas, Lluis Coll, Emmanuel Corcket, Sylvain Delzon, Estelle Forey, Zaal Kikvidze, Johan Olofsson, Francisco Pugnaire, Constanza L. Quiroz, Patrick Saccone, Katja Schiffers, Merav Seifan, Blaize Touzard, Richard Michalet (2008) Facilitation in plant communities: the past, the present, and the future
Journal of Ecology 96 (1) , 18–34 doi:10.1111/j.1365-2745.2007.01295.x



Facilitation in plant communities: the past, the present, and the future

  • 1The Macaulay Land Use Research Institute, Craigiebuckler, Aberdeenshire AB15 8QH, UK, 2Área de Biodiversidad y Conservación, Departamento de Biología y Geología, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, ESCET, C/ Tulipán s/n, 28933 Móstoles, Spain, 3Division of Biological Sciences, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812, USA, 4Biology Department, York University, Toronto, ON M3J 1P3, Canada, 5Departamento de Botánica, Universidad de Concepción and Instituto de Ecología y Biodiversidad (IEB), Concepción, Chile, 6Cemagref – Unité de Recherche Ecosystèmes Montagnards, 2, rue de la Papeterie, B.P. 76, 38402 St-Martin-D’Heres cedex, France, 7University of Tübingen, Institute for Botany, Plant Ecology Department, Auf der Morgenstelle 1 72076 Tübingen, Germany, 8School of Biological Sciences, Zoology Building, Tillydrone Avenue, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen AB24 2TZ, UK, 9IRD, UMR 1097, 911 avenue Agropolis, 34394 Montpellier cedex 5, France, 10Department of Biology, Box 90338, FFSC, Room 3304, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708, USA, 11Centre Tecnològic Forestal de Catalunya / Forest Technology Centre of Catalonia, Pujada del Seminari s/n, 25280-Solsona, Spain, 12University Bordeaux 1, Community Ecology Group, UMR INRA 1202 BIOGECO, 33405 Talence, France, 13Estacion Experimental de Zonas Aridas, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, 04001 Almeria, Spain, 14Department of Ecology and Environmental Science, Umeå University, Sweden, 15Department of Plant Ecology and Nature Conservation, University of Potsdam, Maulbeerallee 2, 14469 Potsdam, Germany
*Author to whom correspondence should be addressed: R. Brooker. Tel. +44 (0)1224 498200. E-mail:
Key-words: competition, disturbance, ecological theory, environmental change, environmental gradients, facilitation, plant communities, positive plant interactions, review, stress



Once neglected, the role of facilitative interactions in plant communities has received considerable attention in the last two decades, and is now widely recognized. It is timely to consider the progress made by research in this field.


We review the development of plant facilitation research, focusing on the history of the field, the relationship between plant–plant interactions and environmental severity gradients, and attempts to integrate facilitation into mainstream ecological theory. We then consider future directions for facilitation research.


With respect to our fundamental understanding of plant facilitation, clarification of the relationship between interactions and environmental gradients is central for further progress, and necessitates the design and implementation of experiments that move beyond the clear limitations of previous studies.


There is substantial scope for exploring indirect facilitative effects in plant communities, including their impacts on diversity and evolution, and future studies should connect the degree of non-transitivity in plant competitive networks to community diversity and facilitative promotion of species coexistence, and explore how the role of indirect facilitation varies with environmental severity.


Certain ecological modelling approaches (e.g. individual-based modelling), although thus far largely neglected, provide highly useful tools for exploring these fundamental processes.


Evolutionary responses might result from facilitative interactions, and consideration of facilitation might lead to re-assessment of the evolution of plant growth forms.


Improved understanding of facilitation processes has direct relevance for the development of tools for ecosystem restoration, and for improving our understanding of the response of plant species and communities to environmental change drivers.


Attempts to apply our developing ecological knowledge would benefit from explicit recognition of the potential role of facilitative plant–plant interactions in the design and interpretation of studies from the fields of restoration and global change ecology.


Synthesis: Plant facilitation research provides new insights into classic ecological theory and pressing environmental issues. Awareness and understanding of facilitation should be part of the basic ecological knowledge of all plant ecologists.

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