Many plants exploit patchy resources through clonal foraging. Plants established in field plots were used to determine if Elymus lanceolatus ssp. lanceolatus (Scribner et J.G. Smith) Gould (thickspike wheatgrass) showed a clonal foraging response to neighbour densities, as it had previously shown to patchy soil nutrients. Neighbours consisted of the rhizomatous E. lanceolatus ssp. lanceolatus and the bunchgrass Elymus lanceolatus ssp. wawawaiensis (Scribner et Gould) J.R. Carlson et D.R. Dewey (proposed name), which are both native to the semiarid western U.S.A., and their ratios as well as total densities varied. Rather than an increase in spacing of exploratory ramets at high densities, as expected with clonal foraging, there was a decrease in spacing in both years of the experiment. Fewer target plants produced exploratory ramets at higher densities only in the second year. These reductions in exploratory clonal growth at higher neighbour densities, which were opposite to E. lanceolatus ssp. lanceolatus' response to low-resource patches, occurred perhaps because soil resource levels were too low overall to support rhizome production, and this condition was more pronounced in the second year. Physical resistance from neighbour roots perhaps also reduced rhizome production. However, rhizome growth may not be beneficial in such cases, and plants may be adapted to produce exploratory rhizomes only when some high-resource patches are encountered by the clone.
Additional publication details
Ramet spacing of Elymus lanceolatus (thickspike wheatgrass) in response to neighbor density