Plant and Soil

, Volume 182, Issue 2, pp 313–327 | Cite as

Intra-specific variation in relative growth rate: impact on competitive ability and performance of Lychnis flos-cuculi in habitats differing in soil fertility

  • Arjen Biere


Plant species from unproductive or adverse habitats are often characterized by a low potential relative growth rate (RGR). Although it is generally assumed that this is the result of selection for specific trait combinations that are associated with a low rate of net biomass accumulation, few studies have directly investigated the selective (dis-)advantage of specific growth parameters under a set of different environmental conditions. Aim of the present study was to quantify the impact of inherent differences in growth parameters among phenotypes of a single plant species, Lychnis flos-cuculi, on their performance under different soil nutrient conditions. Growth analysis revealed significant variation in RGR among progeny families from a diallel cross between eight genotypes originating from a single population. Differences in RGR were due to variation in both leaf area ratio (LAR) and in net assimilation rate (NAR). A genetic trade-off was observed between these two components of growth, i.e. progeny families with high investment in leaf area had a lower rate of net biomass accumulation per unit leaf area. The degree of plasticity in RGR to nutrient conditions did not differ among progeny families. Inherent differences in growth parameters among progeny families had a significant impact on their yield in competition with Anthoxanthum odoratum and Taraxacum hollandicum. In nutrient-rich conditions, progeny families with an inherently high leaf weight ratio (LWR) achieved higher yield in competition, but variation in this trait could not explain differences in competitive yield under nutrient-poor conditions. Inherent differences in growth parameters among progeny families were poorly correlated with differences in survival and average rosette biomass (a good predictor of fecundity) among these progeny families sown in four field sites along a natural gradient of soil fertility. In the more productive sites none of the growth parameters was significantly correlated with rosette biomass, but in the least productive site progeny families with an inherently high specific leaf area (SLA) tended to produce smaller rosettes than low-SLA families. These results are consistent with the view that a selective advantage may accrue from either high or low values of individual RGR components, depending on habitat conditions, and that the selective advantage of low trait values in nutrient-poor environments may results in indirect selection for low RGR in these habitats.

Key words

competitive ability leaf area ratio Lychnis flos-cuculi net assimilation rate phenotypic selection relative growth rate 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Benjamin L R and Hardwick R C 1986 Sources of variation and measures of variability in even-aged stands of plants. Ann. Bot. 58, 157–718.Google Scholar
  2. Berendse F, Elberse W T and Geerts R H M E 1992 Competition and nitrogen loss from plants in grassland ecosystems. Ecology 73, 46–53.Google Scholar
  3. Biere A 1991a Parental effects in Lychnis flos-cuculi L. II. Selection on time of emergence and seedling performance in the field. J. Evol. Biol. 3, 467–486.Google Scholar
  4. Biere A 1991b Parental effects in Lychnis flos-cuculi L. I. Seed size, germination and seedling performance in a controlled environment. J. Evol. Biol. 3, 447–465.Google Scholar
  5. Biere A 1995 Genotypic and plastic variation in plant size: effects on fecundity and allocation patterns in Lychnis flos-cuculi along a gradient of natural soil fertility. J. Ecol. 83, 629–642.Google Scholar
  6. Black J N 1956 The influence of seed size and depth of sowing on pre-emergence and early vegetative growth of subterranean clover (Trifolium subterraneum L.). Aust. J. Agric. Res. 7, 997–1010.Google Scholar
  7. Burdon J J and Harper J L 1980 Relative growth rates of individual members of a plant population. J. Ecol. 68, 953–957.Google Scholar
  8. Chapin F S 1980 The mineral nutrition of wild plants. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Syst. 11, 233–260.Google Scholar
  9. Coleman J S, McConnaughay K D M and Ackerly D D 1994 Interpreting phenotypic variation in plants. Trends Ecol. Evol. 9, 187–191.Google Scholar
  10. Corré W J 1983 Growth and morphogenesis of sun and shade plants. III. The combined effects of light intensity and nutrient supply. Acta Bot. Neerl. 32, 277–294.Google Scholar
  11. Dijkstra P 1989 Cause and effect of differences in specifc leaf area In Causes and Consequences of Variation in Growth Rate and Productivity of Higher Plants. Eds. H Lambers, M L Cambridge, H Konings and T L Pons. pp 125–140. SPB Academic Publishing, The Hague, the Netherlands.Google Scholar
  12. Dijkstra P and Lambers H 1989 A physiological analysis of genetic variation in relative growth rate within Plantago major L. Funct. Ecol. 3, 577–587.Google Scholar
  13. Endler J A 1986 Natural Selection in the Wild. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, USA.Google Scholar
  14. Evans G C 1972 The Quantitative Analysis of Plant Growth. Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford, UK.Google Scholar
  15. Falconer D S 1965 Maternal effects and selection response. In Genetics Today. Proceedings of the XI International Congress on Genetics, 3. Ed. Geerts. pp 163–774. Pergamon, Oxford, UK.Google Scholar
  16. Falconer D S 1981 Introduction to Quantitative Genetics. Longman, London, UK.Google Scholar
  17. Fisher R A 1958 The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection. 2nd ed. Longman, London, UK.Google Scholar
  18. Garnier E 1991 Resource capture, biomass allocation and growth in herbaceous plants. Trends Ecol. Evol. 6, 126–131.Google Scholar
  19. Garnier E 1992 Growth analysis of congeneric annual and perennial grass species. J. Ecol. 80, 665–615.Google Scholar
  20. Grime J P 1979 Plant Strategies and Vegetation Processes. John Wiley and Sons, Chichester, UK.Google Scholar
  21. Grime J P and Hunt R 1915 Relative growth rate: its range and adaptive significance in a local flora. J. Ecol. 63, 393–422.Google Scholar
  22. Hunt R 1982 Plant Growth Curves. The Functional Approach to Growth Analysis. Edward Arnold, London, UK.Google Scholar
  23. Hunt R 1984 Relative growth rates of cohorts of ramets cloned from a single genet. J. Ecol. 72, 299–305.Google Scholar
  24. Jones R, Hodgkinson K C and Rixon A J 1970 Growth and productivity in rangeland species of Atriplex. In The Biology of Atriplex. Ed. R Jones. pp 31–42. CSIRO, Canberra, Australia.Google Scholar
  25. Kalisz S 1986 Variable selection on the timing of germination in Collinsia verna (Scrophulariaceae). Evolution 40, 479–491.Google Scholar
  26. Kik C, Jongman M and Van Andel J 1991 Variation in relative growth rate and survival in ecologically contrasting populations of Agrostis stolonifera. Plant Spec. Biol. 6, 47–54.Google Scholar
  27. Kirkpatrick M and Lande R 1989 The evolution of maternal characters. Evolution 43, 485–503.Google Scholar
  28. Konings H, Koot E and Tijman-de Wolf A 1989 Growth characteristics, nutrient allocation and photosynthesis of Carex species from floating fens. Oecologia 80, 111–121.Google Scholar
  29. Lambers H and Dijkstra P 1987 A physiological analysis of genotypic variation in relative growth rate: Can growth rate confer ecological advantage? In Disturbance in Grasslands Causes, Effects and Processes. Eds. J Van Andel, J P Bakker and R W Snaydon. pp 237–252. Dr W Junk Publishers, Dordrecht, the Netherlands.Google Scholar
  30. Lambers H and Poorter H 1992 Inherent variation in growth rate between higher plants: a search for physiological causes and ecological consequences. Adv. Ecol. Res. 23, 187–261.Google Scholar
  31. Masle J 1992 Genetic variation in the effects of root impedance on growth and transpiration rates of wheat and barley. Aust. J. Plant Physiol. 19, 109–125.Google Scholar
  32. Norusis M J 1986 SPSS/PC+: Statistical Package for the Social Sciences. SPSS inc., Chicago, USA.Google Scholar
  33. Pons T L 1977 An ecophysiological study in the field layer of ash coppice. II: Experiments with Geum urbanum and Cirsium palustre. Acta Bot. Neerl. 26, 251–263.Google Scholar
  34. Poorter H 1989 Plant growth analysis: Towards a synthesis of the classical and the functional approach. Physiol. Plant. 75, 237–244.Google Scholar
  35. Poorter H 1990 Interspecific variation in relative growth rate: On ecological causes and physiological consequences. In Causes and Consequences of Variation in Growth Rate and Productivity of Higher Plants. Eds. H Lambers, M L Cambridge, H Konings and T L Pons. pp 45–68. SPB Academic Publishing, The Hague, the Netherlands.Google Scholar
  36. Poorter H and Lewis C 1986 Testing differences in relative growth rate: A method avoiding curve fitting and pairing. Physiol. Plant. 67, 223–226.Google Scholar
  37. Poorter H and Remkes C 1990 Leaf area ratio and net assimilation rate of 24 wild species differing in relative growth rate. Oecologia 83, 553–559.Google Scholar
  38. Roach D A and Wulff R D 1987 Maternal effects in plants. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Syst. 18, 209–235.Google Scholar
  39. Roush M L and Radosevich S R 1985 Relationships between growth and competitiveness of four annual weeds. J. Appl. Ecol. 22, 895–905.Google Scholar
  40. Ryser P and Lambers H 1995 Root and leaf attributes accounting for the performance of fast and slow-growing grasses at different nutrient supply. Plant and Soil 176, 251–265.Google Scholar
  41. Schemske D W 1983 Breeding system and habitat effects on fitness components in three neotropical Costus (Zingiberaceae). Evolution 37, 523–539.Google Scholar
  42. Sokal R R and Rohlf F J 1981 Biometry. Freeman, San Francisco, USA.Google Scholar
  43. Stanton M L 1985 Seed size and emergence time within a stand of wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum L.): the establishment of a fitness hierarchy. Oecologia 67, 524–531.Google Scholar
  44. Steingröver E 1978 The relationship between cyanide-resistant root respiration and the storage of sugars in the taproot in Daucus carota L. J. Exp. Bot. 32, 911–919.Google Scholar
  45. Steiner A A 1961 An universal method for preparing nutrient solutions of a certain desired composition. Plant and Soil 25, 134–154.Google Scholar
  46. Tilman D 1987 On the meaning of competition and the mechanisms of competitive superiority. Funct. Ecol. 1, 304–315.Google Scholar
  47. Tilman D 1988 Plant Strategies and the Dynamics and Structure of Plant Communities. Princeton University Press, Princeton, USA.Google Scholar
  48. Van Andel J and Biere A 1990 Ecological significance of variability in growth rate and plant productivity. In Causes and Consequences of Variation in Growth Rate and Productivity of Higher Plants. Eds. H Lambers, M L Cambridge, H Konings and T L Pons. pp 257–268. SPB Academic Publishing, The Hague, the Netherlands.Google Scholar
  49. Van Baalen J, Kuiters A T and Van der Woude C S C 1984 Interference of Scrophuluria nodosa and Digitalis purpurea in mixed seedling cultures, as affected by the specific emergence date. Acta Oecol./Oecol. Plant. 5, 279–290.Google Scholar
  50. Van der Werf A, Van Nuenen M, Visser A J and Lambers H 1993 Contribution of physiological and morphological plant traits to a species' competitive ability at high and low nitrogen supply. Oecologia 94, 434–440.Google Scholar
  51. Virgona J M and Farquhar G D 1996 Genotypic variation in relative growth rate and carbon isotope discrimination in sunflower is related to photosynthetic capacity. Aust. J. Plant Physiol. 23, 227–236.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Arjen Biere
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Plant Biology, Laboratory for Plant EcologyUniversity of GroningenHarenThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations