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Gordon G McNickle

Botany and Plant Pathology 

  • Assistant Professor
Lilly Hall Room 1238

My work uses evolutionary game theory as a tool to understand plant systems from the level of individual resource acquisition strategies, all the way to the scale of entire ecosystems. To the untrained eye plants might appear to be more like an inanimate object than the type of organism that can play games. However, like any living organism, plants are faced with variation in the environment, competitors, enemies and mutualistic partners where the best strategy of a plant will depend on the strategy used by the organisms around them. These ecological interactions take on all the essential features of a game.  If you know where to look, you will find that plants are remarkably good at assessing and responding to external stimuli in ways that are often best described using evolutionary game theory. My research most often has been concerned with trying to understand how plants should produce roots to forage for nutrients in soil, and how competition with neighbours influences these root foraging strategies. When plants compete, the problem turns into a game, and plants are adept at assessing and responding to the strategies used by neighbours.


Increasingly, I have become interested in “whole plant games”, where plants are playing multi-strategy games occurring on multiple fronts and research here aks: 1) how do plants prioritize these different games and; 2)  how do these games shape coexistence and community structure.  For example, if plants are competing both above- and below-ground, how does this alter growth strategies? Similarly, if plants are competing but also being attacked by herbivores, how does this alter growth strategies, and interactions among plants?


Selected Publications

Dybzinski, R., Kelvakis, A., McCabe, J., Panock, S., Anuchitlertchon, K., Vasarhelyi, L., . . . Farrior, C. E. (2019). How are nitrogen availability, fine-root mass, and nitrogen uptake related empirically? Implications for models and theory. GLOBAL CHANGE BIOLOGY, 25(3), 885-899. doi:10.1111/gcb.14541

Sniderhan, A. E., McNickle, G. G., & Baltzer, J. L. (2018). Assessing local adaptation vs. plasticity under different resource conditions in seedlings of a dominant boreal tree species. AOB PLANTS, 10(1). doi:10.1093/aobpla/ply004

McNickle, G. G., Lamb, E. G., Lavender, M., Cahill, James F., Jr., Schamp, B. S., Siciliano, S. D., . . . Baltzer, J. L. (2018). Checkerboard score-area relationships reveal spatial scales of plant community structure. OIKOS, 127(3), 415-426. doi:10.1111/oik.04620

Christie, M., McNickle, G. G., French, R. A., & Blouin, M. S. (2018). Life history variation is maintained by fitness trade-offs and negative frequency-dependent selection. PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 115(17), 4441-4446. doi:10.1073/pnas.1801779115

McNickle, G. G., & Evans, W. D. (2018). Toleration games: compensatory growth by plants in response to enemy attack is an evolutionarily stable strategy. AOB PLANTS, 10(4). doi:10.1093/aobpla/ply035

Cressman, R., Halloway, A., McNickle, G. G., Apaloo, J., Brown, J. S., & Vincent, T. L. (2017). Unlimited niche packing in a Lotka-Volterra competition game. THEORETICAL POPULATION BIOLOGY, 116, 1-17. doi:10.1016/j.tpb.2017.04.003

McNickle, G. G., Gonzalez-Meler, M. A., Lynch, D. J., Baltzer, J. L., & Brown, J. S. (2016). The world's biomes and primary production as a triple tragedy of the commons foraging game played among plants. PROCEEDINGS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY B-BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES, 283(1842). doi:10.1098/rspb.2016.1993

McNickle, G. G., Wallace, C., & Baltzer, J. L. (2016). Why do mosses have height? Moss production as a tragedy of the commons game. EVOLUTIONARY ECOLOGY RESEARCH, 17(1), 75-93.

Cheng, W., Parton, W. J., Gonzalez-Meler, M. A., Phillips, R., Asao, S., McNickle, G. G., . . . Jastrow, J. D. (2014). Synthesis and modeling perspectives of rhizosphere priming. 201(1), 31-44. doi:10.1111/nph.12440

McNickle, G. G., Deyholos, M. K., & Cahill, J. F. (in press). Nutrient foraging behaviour of four co-occuring perennial grassland plant species alone does not predict behaviour with neighbours. Functional Ecology.

Botany and Plant Pathology, 915 West State Street, West Lafayette, IN 47907 USA, (765) 494-4614

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