Plant Ecology

, Volume 219, Issue 1, pp 1–15 | Cite as

Linking gene regulation, physiology, and plant biomass allocation in Andropogon gerardii in response to drought

  • Meghan L. Avolio
  • Ava M. Hoffman
  • Melinda D. Smith


Plant responses to drought are often initiated at the molecular level and cascade upwards to affect physiology and growth. How plants respond to and recover from drought have consequences for their growth and survival in drier climates predicted with climate change. We studied four ecologically relevant genotypes of a common C4 grass, Andropogon gerardii. These genotypes had differential responses to a decade of more variable precipitation patterns in a field experiment in native tallgrass prairie. Here, we conducted a greenhouse experiment examining how these genotypes responded to repeated 10-day drought-recovery cycles when experiencing either a severe or moderate drought. We did this twice over the course of the experiment, early, after 5 weeks, and late, after 9 weeks of drought. We studied nine genes involved in water stress signaling and drought response in leaf tissue using real-time reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR). We also measured photosynthesis, stomatal conductance, and biomass accumulation and allocation. In early drought, we found consistent differences among genotypes in gene expression, leaf-level physiology, and biomass accumulation and allocation. We found genes involved in ABA, proline synthesis, and mitigating oxidative stress were differentially expressed between genotypes, while genes that coded for aquaporins and chaperones were not. In late drought, we found fewer overall differences, and little regulation of drought responsive genes. Ultimately, we found genotypes either had greater phenotypic plasticity, suggesting an ability to avoid drought and maximize water resources when they were present, or genotypes were better at tolerating drought.


Adaptation Drought recovery Microevolution Phenotypic plasticity qRT-PCR Severe drought 



This research was supported by an EPA star to MLA and US Department of Energy, Office of Science (PER) (Grant #DE-FG02-04ER63892) to MDS. We gratefully acknowledge S. Yuan for all of her help for designing and implementing the experiment. We thank E. Larson, C. Bolick, and D. Garinger at Yale Marsh Botanical Garden for sharing their expertise and general support and D. Hoover for his help with Matlab. We also thank G. Caccone, C. Mariani, P. Turner, and the Yale DNA Analysis Facility for allowing us to use their space and assistance with sample processing and A. Bear for her help with data analysis. Additionally, we thank four anonymous reviewers for thier suggestions, which this improved the manuscript.

Supplementary material

11258_2017_773_MOESM1_ESM.docx (156 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 155 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Earth & Planetary ScienceJohns Hopkins UniversityBaltimoreUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biology, Graduate Degree Program in EcologyColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA

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