Zea-Cabrera, E., Y. Iwasa, S. Levin, and I. Rodrı´guez-Iturbe (2006), Tragedy of the commons in plant water use, Water
Resour. Res., 42, W06D02, doi:10.1029/2005WR004514.
In this paper we address the following question: how can efficient water use strategies
evolve and persist when natural selection favors aggressive but inefficient individual water
use? A tragedy of the commons, in which the competitive evolutionary outcome is lower
than the ecosystem optimum (in this case defined as maximum productivity), arises
because of (1) a trade-off between resource uptake rate and resource use efficiency and
(2) the open access character of soil water as a resource. Competitive superiority is
determined by the lowest value of the steady state soil moisture, which can be minimized
by increasing water uptake or by increasing drought tolerance. When the competing types
all have the same drought tolerance, the most aggressive water users exclude efficient
ones, even though they produce a lower biomass when in monoculture. However,
plants with low water uptake can exclude aggressive ones if they have enough drought
tolerance to produce a lower steady state soil moisture. In that case the competitive
superior is also the best monoculture, and there is no tragedy of the commons. Spatial
segregation in soil moisture dynamics favors the persistence of conservative water use
strategies and the evolution of lower maximum transpiration rates. Increasing genetic
relatedness between competing plants favors the evolution of conservative water use
strategies. Some combinations of soil moisture spatial segregation and intensity of kin
selection may favor the evolution and maintenance of multiple types of plant water use.
This occurs because a cyclical pattern of species replacement can arise where no single
type can exclude all other types.