Introduction

In evaluating the interactions between organisms, ecolo-gists are often interested in whether the performance of an individual species by itself (in a monoculture) is different from the performance of that species when other species are present (in a polyculture). Experiments comparing the growth, fecundity, or physiological rates of species in monocultures versus polycultures are used to assess competitive versus facilitative interactions between species and to evaluate the degree to which species are partitioning limiting resources.

These approaches have their origins in studies conducted to understand and improve the yield of agricultural crops, but they have recently been applied to more basic ecological questions, including evaluations of resource use, competition, and complementarity among species. Comparisons of monoculture versus polyculture performance have been especially useful in understanding the mechanistic links between the number of organisms and the rates of ecosystem-level processes in a given area.

Below, we briefly present the agricultural roots and history of experiments evaluating monocultures versus polycultures, describe some of the statistical methodology used in these comparisions, and illustrate how they have been used to evaluate both competitive interactions and the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.

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