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Quantification of plasticity of plant traits in response to light intensity: comparing phenotypes at a common weight

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Plasticity of plant traits is commonly quantified by comparing different phenotypes at the same age. In this paper, we present a method in which the effect of resource conditions on plant weight is used as a basis for quantifying the plasticity of individual plant traits. Abutilon theophrasti individuals were grown in, and some transferred between, high and low intensity light conditions, resulting in four phenotypes. Plant traits were found to exhibit different degrees of plasticity, decreasing in this order: height; specific leaf area; allocation to branch roots; allocation to leaf area; number of nodes; allocation to tap roots; allocation to stem; allocation to leaf weight. Under these conditions, individuals of the four phenotypes had very similar heights when compared at the same age, but very different heights when compared at the same plant weight. The latter comparison indicates that light intensity influences height independently of its influence on plant weight. Individuals that were transferred from high to low light had greater allocation that had not been transferred, but individuals of all phenotypes had nearly the same leaf weight allocation when compared at the same plant weight. The latter comparison indicates that light intensity influeces leaf weight allocation mostly by influencing plant weight. In the phenotype resulting from the transfer of plants from low to high light, reproduction was stimulated much less than plant weight and axillary leaf growth, and reproductive allocation was delayed relative to the other three phenotypes. We conclude that when plasticity is measured by comparing phenotypes at the same plant weight, the effects of resources on plant size can be excluded from the quantification.

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Rice, S.A., Bazzaz, F.A. Quantification of plasticity of plant traits in response to light intensity: comparing phenotypes at a common weight. Oecologia 78, 502–507 (1989). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00378741

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