, Volume 141, Issue 1-2, pp 107-115

Spatial structure of stoloniferous herbs: an interplay between structural blue-print, ontogeny and phenotypic plasticity

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Plant form and spatial structure reflect the basic architectural blue-print of a plant. In most plant species, the expression of the structural blue-print is systematically altered during ontogeny resulting in predictable changes in the allometry of plant structures and in the types of structures that are produced. The expression of the structural blue-print or the timing of ontogenetic changes is also frequently altered by environmental conditions. This latter source of variability, referred to as phenotypic plasticity, is manifested through changes in the timing and rates of meristem initiation and development, the likelihood that meristems will remain dormant or commit to different demographic fates (i.e., vegetative vs. reproductive structures), or the size and structure of the organs formed. Complex interactions among these components can result in considerable differences in form and spatial structure among individuals of the same species. This paper focuses on the importance of these different components in determining the architecture of clonal plants with long internode connections between ramets.

A case study is presented that attempts to separate ontogenetic variation and phenotypic plasticity in two stoloniferous species with different structural blue-prints, in their responses to shading. In both species the rate of ontogenetic development responded to intermediate shading levels, but only at very low levels of light availability did plastic changes in branch formation occur. Under shaded conditions the two species achieved similar changes in their architecture in conspicuously different ways. We discuss how different mechanisms leading to a given architecture can be distinguished and what the ecological implications of this are.