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The Game of Plant Life

Plant growth with respect to their environments/ or better put plant ecology, is not only a testament of the complexity of nature but also a physical representation of the logic games played throughout a plant’s life— referred to in class as game theory.

The paper begins by defining what the competition is over— in any given environment there are limited resources and plant growth (in individualistic terms) and ecology (evolving into mutual best response nash equilibrium).The negatives are defined as such, ”resource competition as a negative interaction between individual plants mediated by a limiting resource that, once intercepted by a particular individual, is not available to other individuals.” (McKnickle, Dybzinski p547) The success of the player in the ‘game’ is dependent upon the frequencies of favorable traits one species has in its own community and in comparison to others (ex height and floral display for pollinators )

However, if the plants were all have a way to control their heights it would result in the greatest benefit— producing the most photosynthate (mutual best response equilibrium) across the board for every plant competing for light. And some plants have adapted towards acquiring these mutualistic benefits. Many plant communities mutually share information such as pest warnings by releasing volatiles (that save their competitors) or by sharing minerals in root systems for the greater health of the community as whole (always desiring to reach nash equilibrium but not quite ever getting there) that leads to healthier individual plants in the species (mutual best response). This is not limited to inter species relationships,  but can happen with something as different as a tomato and a sage plant.

This paper raised a new light into game theory for me. What if the decision making is fixed, as in the case of the genotype of plants, or can only operate within a range (phenotype plasticity). Decisions are still being made, but are much more limited as plants don’t actually make conscious decisions like our human and animal examples in classes do. Still, their growth can be considered a proper decision as they are responses to information from external factors such as the surrounding environment and other players within it. In addition, all of the other players (other plants) have the same overarching constraints upon them as they compete for the resources. To conclude, evolution seems to be essentially a game of mixed strategy nash equilibrium. There is no equilibrium that results in a dominant strategy in real life (looking at a generation of growth). The plant can only hope to have a larger probability of having more resources and as seen in the traffic problem, this is often by working towards what increases the greater health/pay off of as many of the inhabitants of the surrounding environment (mutually).

Paper link:


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September 2018