Tuber size variation and organ preformation constrain growth responses of a spring geophyte
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- Werger, M.J.A. & Huber, H. Oecologia (2006) 147: 396. doi:10.1007/s00442-005-0280-4
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Functional responses to environmental variation do not only depend on the genetic potential of a species to express different trait values, but can also be limited by characteristics, such as the timing of organ (pre-) formation, aboveground longevity or the presence of a storage organ. In this experiment we tested to what degree variation in tuber size and organ preformation constrain the responsiveness to environmental quality and whether responsiveness is modified by the availability of stored resources by exposing the spring geophyte Bunium bulbocastanum to different light and nutrient regimes. Growth and biomass partitioning were affected by initial tuber size and resource availability. On average, tuber weight amounted to 60%, but never less than 30% of the total plant biomass. Initial tuber size, considered an estimate of the total carbon pool available at the onset of treatments, affected plant growth and reproduction throughout the experiment but had little effect on the responsiveness of plants to the treatments. The responsiveness was partly constrained by organ preformation: in the second year variation of leaf number was considerably larger than in the first year of the treatments. The results indicate that a spring geophyte with organ preformation has only limited possibilities to respond to short-term fluctuations of the environment, as all leaves and the inflorescence are preformed in the previous growing season and resources stored in tubers are predominantly used for survival during dormancy and are not invested into plastic adjustments to environmental quality. Such spring geophytes have only limited possibilities to buffer environmental variation. This explains their restriction to habitats characterized by predictable changes of the environmental conditions.