, Volume 78, Issue 4, pp 508-512

Growth consequences of plasticity of plant traits in response to light conditions

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Summary

We present a method for quantifying the growth advantage, if any, that results from the plasticity of plant traits in response to growth in high vs. low resource levels. The method, which uses two phenotypes and two resource levels, quantifies the average advantage that a phenotype has, in its own set of conditions, over the other phenotype. The method is applied to the growth of two phenotypes of Abutilon theophrasti, induced by high and low light intensity, in response to two levels of incident light intensity. We calculated the growth advantage first using relative growth rate, and second using whole-plant photosynthetic assimilation rate, as the response variable. Then we used the photosynthetic responses to changes in light intensity to calculate changes in growth rates of each phenotype when exposed to a change in light conditions. These three quantifications of growth advantage broadly agree with one another. Despite the great plasticity of its traits induced by growth in high vs. low light intensity, whole-plant plasticity did not allow Abutilon theophrasti to exhibit a significant growth advantage under these conditions. Indeed, the relative growth rate of the low light phenotype greatly exceeded that of the high light phenotype in high incident light conditions. This may have resulted from the higher leaf area ratio of the low light phenotype. Furthermore, the high light phenotype had significantly greater transpiration rate in both light conditions. For these reasons we suggest that light-induced plasticity of traits in Abutilon theophrasti may confer advantage in response to the variation in vapor pressure deficit that is associated with variation in light intensity. Light-induced plasticity may also be advantageous because under high incident light conditions the high-light phenotype has greater reproductive allocation than the low-light phenotype.