Ecological Research

, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 733–744 | Cite as

A conceptual framework for the study of modular responses to local environmental heterogeneity within the plant crown and a review of related concepts

  • Koji Kawamura
Special Feature Plant responses to heterogeneous environments


Plants respond to local heterogeneity in abiotic and biotic conditions by changing module-level morphology, growth, and reproductive patterns. This paper presents a conceptual framework for the study of modular responses in plant crowns, clarifies the points that should be considered for scaling up from modular responses to the consequences at the whole-plant level, characterizes the interspecific differences in modular response patterns, and discusses their ecological significance. The modular response was defined as either autonomous or interactive, depending on whether the response of a module to its local condition is independent from the conditions of other modules. For evaluation of the autonomy of the modular response, the importance of considering positional relationships and organizational levels of modules was then proposed as these internally affect the modular response pattern, and their interspecific differences were characterized using several concepts. The identification of an autonomous modular unit is essential for scaling up module-level studies to the whole plant. For understanding the ecological significance of the modular response, further interspecific comparisons and assessments of the scale and the predictability of environmental heterogeneity are required. The conceptual framework will be useful for such purposes.


Phenotypic plasticity Plant foraging Modularity Scale up Tree architecture 



I would like to thank Drs. Hiroshi Takeda and Kiyoshi Ishida for their helpful discussions and encouragements during the study, Dr. Akira Mori for inviting me to prepare this manuscript, and two anonymous reviewers and the handing editor Dr. Kouki Hikosaka for their helpful and constructive comments. This work was supported by a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) fellowship.


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© The Ecological Society of Japan 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Kansai Research CenterForestry and Forest Products Research InstituteKyotoJapan
  2. 2.Laboratory of Horticultural Science, Graduate School of Bioagricultural SciencesNagoya UniversityNagoyaJapan

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