Through complementary use of canopy space in mixtures, aboveground niche separation has the potential to promote
species coexistence and increase productivity of mixtures as compared to monocultures. We set up an experiment with five perennial grass species which differed in height and their ability to compete for light to test whether plants partition light under conditions where it is a limiting resource, and if this resource partitioning leads to increased biomass production in mixtures (using relative yield-based methods). Further, we present the first application of a new model of light competition in plant communities. We show that under conditions where biomass production was high and light a limiting resource, only a minority of mixtures outperformed monocultures and overyielding was slight. The observed overyielding could not be explained by species differences in canopy structure and height in monoculture and was also not related to changes in the canopy traits of species when grown in mixture rather than monoculture. However, where overyielding occurred, it was associated with higher biomass density and light interception. In the new model of competition for light, greater light use complementarity was related to increased total energy absorption. Future work should address whether greater canopy space-filling is a cause or consequence of overyielding.