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Clonal plant allocation to daughter ramets is a simple function of parent size across species and nutrient levels

Abstract

The evolution of clonal growth is a widespread phenomenon among plant species, characterized by the production of genetically identical clonal fragments (ramets) via rhizomes or stolons that form an interconnected clonal organism (genet). Clonal plant species are known to differ in their investment into ramet production, and exhibit considerable variation in ramet morphology both within and among species. While patterns of resource allocation are thought to be linked to a number of plant characteristics, many analyses are limited by uncertainty in how clonal plants determine the morphology and resources allocated to new ramets. In this study, we attempted to discern what aspects of parent ramets best predicted resource allocation to new daughter ramets, and the relationship between resource allocation and daughter ramet rhizome morphology. We grew two sedge species, Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani and Eleocharis elliptica, in a greenhouse under two levels of fertilizer addition. By harvesting daughter ramets that had initiated stem production, yet remained aphotosynthetic, we were able to isolate parental investment into non-independent daughter ramets at a point where daughter ramet spacer length became fixed. Our results indicate that parent ramets allocated a non-linear proportion of parent rhizome biomass to the production of daughter ramets. Moreover, this relationship was unaffected by environmental nutrient availability. Daughter ramet biomass, in turn, was strongly correlated with daughter ramet spacer length. These observations shed light on key processes governing clonal growth in plants, and their potential application in unifying allocational and morphological perspectives to explore the fitness implications of variability in clonal growth.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Tony Reznicek of the University of Michigan Herbarium for support in identification and collection of candidate clonal plant species, Michael Palmer and the Matthaei Botanical Gardens staff for assistance in greenhouse experiments, and the Eviner Lab at the University of California, Davis for their comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript. Funding for this research was provided by the University of Michigan and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) ROSES Grant NNX11AC72G.

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Correspondence to E. E. Batzer.

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Communicated by William E. Rogers.

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Batzer, E.E., Martina, J.P., Elgersma, K.J. et al. Clonal plant allocation to daughter ramets is a simple function of parent size across species and nutrient levels. Plant Ecol 218, 1299–1311 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-017-0769-z

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Keywords

  • Clonal plants
  • Clonal growth
  • Reproductive cost
  • Resource allocation
  • Translocation
  • Fertilization