Evolutionary crop research: Ego-plants give lower yield

October 02, 2017

Survival of the fittest is a fundamental concept in Darwin's theory of natural selection which drives evolution.

However, when it comes to agriculture and plantbreeding, the traits which make a single plant individual a good competitor and increases its fitness as an individual is not necessarily the same characteristics that increase the total yield of a group of plants on the field.

These are the findings in a new study from Copenhagen University just published in the journal Ecology. Jacob Weiner, Professor in plant ecology, is responsible for new research within the area Evolutionary Agroecology or as it is also known, Darwinian Agriculture.

Together with a research team in China, Jacob Weiner planted 35 different wheat varieties on field plots in both monocultures (groups consisting of a single wheat variety) and polycultures (groups consisting of mixtures of all the varieties).

He explains how the results showed that competitive wheat varieties only gave mediocre yields when they were grown in groups of the same variety, as is the norm in agriculture.

On the contrary, less competitive varieties gave larger yields under the same conditions. If implemented within plant breeding these results may be used to increase agricultural production yields. Group dynamics beats individual performance Jacob Weiner explains that the results points towards the implementation of a new perspective within plant breeding.

In this perspective the concepts of group selection should be applied during the development of new plant breeds, instead of selecting based on individual fitness as it is often done within plant breeding and research.

"The crops can be compared to a sports team. If every player is rewarded for scoring the goals, the team will not score as many goals as it would, had the players cooperated. In the same way, we can't increase crop yields by selecting the most successful plant individuals for breeding," Jacob Weiner says.

One of the scientific hypotheses behind the research explains this. It is based on the fact that "selfish" individual plants - the best competitors - use a lot of resources to compete with each other and thereby have fewer resources left for producing higher yields compared to less competitive plants.

A plant breeding revolution

According to Jacob Weiner the results should lead to a shift of the general mindset within present day plant breeding.

The new principles should encourage selecting new plant breeds based on the characteristics of group selection, a phenomenon which is only rarely observed in nature.

Much plant breeding and especially genetic engineering is aimed at creating "better" plants, e.g. plants with more effective photosynthesis or that grow faster. According to evolutionary thinking, these efforts are not likely to succeed, because natural selection has been optimizing these attributes for millions of years.

"We can only better than natural selection if we try to do something natural selection will not do, such as breed unselfish plants" says Weiner.
-end-


University of Copenhagen

Related Natural Selection Articles from Brightsurf:

Genetic determinants of fertility and ongoing natural selection in humans
A recent study presented at the ASHG 2020 Virtual Meeting suggests genetic variants may be associated with reproductive success.

Forearm artery reveals humans evolving from changes in natural selection
Humans haven't developed genetic mutations for telepathy or superpowers just yet, but a new study shows our species is still evolving in unique ways and changes in the natural selection could be the major reason.

Novel technology for the selection of single photosynthetic cells
New research, published in the journal Science Advances, demonstrates how microfluidic technologies can be used to identify, isolate and propagate specific single photosynthetically active cells for fundamental industry applications and improved ecosystem understanding.

Genomic selection in dairy cows creates opportunities not possible with traditional selection
The 2019 ADSA Annual Meeting featured the Joint ADSA/Interbull Breeding and Genetics Symposia titled ''Ten Years of Genomic Selection'' and ''Data Pipelines for Implementation of Genomic Evaluation of Novel Traits.'' Because of genomic selection's importance to dairy science, the Journal of Dairy Science invited the speakers to submit articles and share information from these symposia with a wider audience.

Recurrent genomic selection for wheat grain fructans
Development of Climate-Resilient, Nutritionally Improved Wheat

NASA's OSIRIS-REx in the midst of site selection
After a lengthy and challenging process, the team is finally ready to down-select from the four candidate sites to a primary and backup site.

The argument for sexual selection in bacteria
The evolutionary pressure to pass on DNA can produce behavior that otherwise makes no sense in a struggle to survive.

Sexual selection influences the evolution of lamprey pheromones
In 'Intra- and Interspecific Variation in Production of Bile Acids that Act As Sex Pheromones in Lampreys,' published in Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, Tyler J.

Infection biology: Signs of selection in the stomach
Helicobacter pylori, a globally distributed gastric bacterium, is genetically highly adaptable.

Study finds natural selection favors cheaters
Natural selection predicts that mutualisms -- interactions between members of different species that benefit both parties -- should fall apart.

Read More: Natural Selection News and Natural Selection Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.