In a recent commentary piece in Applied Vegetation Science, NCEAS Senior Fellow Chris Lortie explores the use of plant facilitation - positive interactions between plants - through the lens of the “Fix-it Felix” effect. Fix-it Felix is a fictional character in the movie "Wreck it Ralph" who can only fix things, no matter the context.
So, when applied to the plant ecology context, does plant facilitation always promote better outcomes no matter the context, or are there gradients, contexts, or both positive and negative interactions that mediate the restoration outcome?
The researchers developed an experiment that tests the Fix-it Felix effect and found that, in fact, interactions are species specific, and each species responds uniquely to different soil types. By challenging the assumptions of a Fix-it Felix effect, they found that facilitation does not necessarily set the stage for the same level of benefits for all species.
These findings advance plant facilitation and restoration theories, and expand our capacity to build better soil mixtures and identify the best situations to use them in, leading to more effective restoration projects.
The commentary is based on a recent Rydgren et al. (2017) paper that examines the role net interactions, competition, and facilitation play in mediating restoration outcomes within an arctic-alpine ecosystem.
Fix-it Felix: advances in testing plant facilitation as a restoration tool
Applied Vegetation Science, June 2017, doi: 10.1111/avsc.12317