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Assistant Professor
Department of Botany and Plant Pathology
Courtesy Appointment, Department of Biological Sciences


Associated website(s):

Lab Website , Publications



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

McNickle, G. G., & Brown, J. S. (2014). An ideal free distribution explains the root production of plants that do not engage in a tragedy of the commons game. Journal of Ecology, 102(4), 963-971.

McNickle, G. G., & Brown, J. S. (2014). When Michaelis and Menten met Holling: towards a mechanistic theory of plant nutrient foraging. AoB Plants, 6, plu066.

Apaloo, J., Brown, J. S., McNickle, G. G., Vincent, T. L. S., & Vincent, T. L. (2014). ESS versus Nash: Solving Evolutionary Games. Evolutionary Ecology Research, 16, 293-314.

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.

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