The effects of environmental change on competition between heather and bracken
Vegetation dominated by heather and bracken, two common species of the UK uplands, is often nutrient limited and heavily influenced by climate. Thus, changes in climate or nutrient availability might be expected to have pronounced effects on growth and competition between these species. Mature heather and bracken turfs, transplanted from the field into 1 x 1 by 0.5 m deep plots, were subjected to factorial experimental treatments of root competition, shoot competition, summer drought, increased nitrogen supply and increased temperature for four consecutive years. The effects of root competition on the growth of heather and bracken were as great as those caused by the environmental treatments alone. Shoot competition had little effect on the growth of the two species, and thus, competition was concluded to occur predominately for below ground resources. Heather, in the building phase, was a superior competitor to bracken due to its extremely fine and invasive root system. Heather was able to compete with and deplete water from the roots of established bracken plants. Measurement of integrated of water use efficiency () and water use by droughted heather and bracken showed that the predicted environmental change scenarios are likely to cause an increase in the intensity of competition for water. There was no evidence of competition for nitrogen, despite nitrogen clearly limiting the growth of both species. The effects of the treatments on shoot phenology, morphology, photosynthetic physiology, biomass and below ground biomass have been examined. Above ground, heather was more responsive to the treatments imposed than bracken, having greater increases in shoot growth in favourable conditions, but greater decreases in shoot growth, and greater physiological acclimation, in stressed conditions, particularly drought in combination with increased nitrogen supply. Below ground, growth of bracken was extremely responsive whilst that of heather was not. However, even when bracken below ground growth was most stimulated, by increased nitrogen supply, it was still held in check by heather.