Farming plant cooperation in crops (Proc. R. Soc. B.)

If you want a great plant, select for a strong, vigorous, high-yielding individual; this is also the outcome of natural selection. But if you want a great field of plants, these traits may not be as suitable, because the plants will expend energy competing between themselves. When seeds from many plants are used to start the next generation, there will be a mixture of tall, selfish traits and short, altruistic traits. Competitiveness has been studied in wild populations and theoretical terms, but its application to identify best practices in crops has been limited. Montazeaud et al. “develop a theoretical framework to investigate the evolution of cooperation-related traits in crops, using plant height as a case study,” and find that “combining high plant density, high relatedness and selection among groups favours the evolution of shorter plants that maximize grain yield.” They discuss their findings in terms of past and future practices, with the goal of finding low-impact approaches to high yields.  (Summary by Mary Williams) Proc. R. Soc.. B. 10.1098/rspb.2019.1290