Evol Ecol Res 17: 75-93 (2016)     Full PDF if your library subscribes.

Why do mosses have height?
Moss production as a tragedy of the commons game

Gordon G. McNickle1, Cory Wallace2 and Jennifer L. Baltzer2

1Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA and  2Department of Biology, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Correspondence: G.C. McNickle, Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, Purdue University, 915 W. State Street, West Lafayette, IN 47907, USA.
e-mail: gmcnickle@purdue.edu


Question: Why do mosses produce stem-like structures that allow them to grow above their neighbours? Does answering this question help us understand patterns in moss production under environmental change?

Hypothesis: Light competition leads to an evolutionary struggle for height that enhances the ability of mosses to acquire light relative to their neighbours.

Method: We use evolutionary game theory and develop a foraging game for carbon and nitrogen. The game seeks evolutionarily stable strategies for leaf bract and stem production in moss.

Key assumptions: Water is available in sufficient quantities so as not to limit moss growth. There is no nutrient toxicity. Resource harvest as a function of tissue production occurs with diminishing returns, and the costs of tissue production increase linearly with tissue production.

Conclusions: The model predicts that moss production should increase dramatically under carbon fertilization, but not respond to nitrogen fertilization. The struggle for height means that mosses should favour the production of stem-like structures over leaf-like structures. The empirical results in the literature are broadly consistent with these predictions.

Keywords: evolutionarily stable strategy, evolutionary game theory, moss, peatlands, tragedy of the commons.

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