, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 311-316

Field evidence of plastic growth responses to habitat heterogeneity in the clonal herbRanunculus repens

Abstract

Stolon internode lengths were measured on plants of the clonal herbRanunculus repens growing in a hay meadow which was subject to disturbance by mole (Talpa europaea) activity. Within the site three habitat types were recognized: closed grassland, the open ground of fresh molehills and the grass-molehill boundary. The lengths of stolon internodes ofR. repens differed significantly in each of the three habitats. The shortest internodes occurred on stolons on the open molchills. The longest occurred in the closed grassland habitat. The type of habitat in which parent ramets were rooted did not significantly influence the length of internodes on their daughter stolons. The length of a stolon internode was determined by its immediate surrounding habitat type. Consecutive internode lengths on a given stolon showed considerable plasticity, shortening significantly as stolons spread onto molehills from surrounding habitats, and increasing significantly as stolons advanced from a molehill into the surrounding closed grassland habitat. These results are consistent with the proposition that under favorable conditions (on the molehills, where resources are expected to be more abundant, and competition absent) internode lengths shorten and the plant forages intensively, whereas under conditions of low resource availability (in the closed grassland, where competition occurs) internode lengths increase, allowingR. repens to forage extensively. Such morphological plasticity may promote more efficient exploitation of resource-rich sites and more rapid vacation of resource-poor sites.