Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 27-47

First online:

Phenotypic plasticity to light intensity in Arabidopsis thaliana: invariance of reaction norms and phenotypic integration

  • Massimo PigliucciAffiliated withDepartment of Botany, University of TennesseeDepartment of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee Email author 
  • , Anna KolodynskaAffiliated withDepartment of Botany, University of TennesseeDepartment of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee

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Phenotypic plasticity (the pattern of response of organisms to changes in environmental conditions) and phenotypic integration (the pattern of character correlations) are important components of our understanding of the evolution of complex phenotypes. Most studies published so far in this area have been conducted within populations with the express aim of predicting future response to evolutionary forces. However, among-population differentiation for plasticity and trait correlations are important indicators of recent past events that have shaped the currently observable phenotypes. We investigated variation in the reaction norms of several traits in a large number of accessions of Arabidopsis thaliana exposed to different levels of light quantity as well as the environmental lability of the corresponding across-population character variance–covariance matrix. Our results show that there is an astounding degree of inter-population variation for character means and very little variation for plasticity, in agreement with the idea that A. thaliana is a light-specialist often occurring in open, disturbed habitats. However, this plant also shows patterns of plasticity that are predicted to be adaptive based on functional ecological considerations, such as an increase in either specific leaf area or leaf number (but not both) under low light. We also demonstrate that the set of character correlations in A. thaliana is extremely stable to changes in light availability, contrary to previous findings in the same species when different environmental factors were considered. Several processes that might have been responsible for the observed patterns are discussed as a prelude to follow-up research on these problems.

Arabidopsis character covariances light quantity phenotypic plasticity