, Volume 78, Issue 4, pp 508–512 | Cite as

Growth consequences of plasticity of plant traits in response to light conditions

  • Stanley A. Rice
  • F. A. Bazzaz
Original Papers


We present a method for quantifying the growth advantage, if any, that results from the plasticity of plant traits in response to growth in high vs. low resource levels. The method, which uses two phenotypes and two resource levels, quantifies the average advantage that a phenotype has, in its own set of conditions, over the other phenotype. The method is applied to the growth of two phenotypes of Abutilon theophrasti, induced by high and low light intensity, in response to two levels of incident light intensity. We calculated the growth advantage first using relative growth rate, and second using whole-plant photosynthetic assimilation rate, as the response variable. Then we used the photosynthetic responses to changes in light intensity to calculate changes in growth rates of each phenotype when exposed to a change in light conditions. These three quantifications of growth advantage broadly agree with one another. Despite the great plasticity of its traits induced by growth in high vs. low light intensity, whole-plant plasticity did not allow Abutilon theophrasti to exhibit a significant growth advantage under these conditions. Indeed, the relative growth rate of the low light phenotype greatly exceeded that of the high light phenotype in high incident light conditions. This may have resulted from the higher leaf area ratio of the low light phenotype. Furthermore, the high light phenotype had significantly greater transpiration rate in both light conditions. For these reasons we suggest that light-induced plasticity of traits in Abutilon theophrasti may confer advantage in response to the variation in vapor pressure deficit that is associated with variation in light intensity. Light-induced plasticity may also be advantageous because under high incident light conditions the high-light phenotype has greater reproductive allocation than the low-light phenotype.

Key words

Plasticity Growth rate Photosynthesis Abutilon 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bazzaz FA (1983) Characteristics of populations in relation to disturbance in natural and man-modified ecosystems. In: Mooney HA, Godron M (eds), Disturbance and Ecosystems: Components of Response (Ecological Studies Vol. 44) Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York, pp 259–275Google Scholar
  2. Bazzaz FA, Carlson RW (1982) Photosynthetic acclimation to variability in the light environment of early and late successional plants Oecologia 54:313–316Google Scholar
  3. Blackman GE, Wilson GL (1954) Physiological and ecological studies in the analysis of plant environment IX. Adaptive changes in the vegetative growth and development of Helianthus annuus induced by an alteration of light level. Ann Bot 18:71–94Google Scholar
  4. Bradshaw AD (1965) Evolutionary significance of phenotypic plasticity in plants. Adv Gen 13:115–155Google Scholar
  5. Bradshaw AD (1974) Environment and phenotypic plasticity. Brookhaven Symp Biol 25:75–94Google Scholar
  6. Caswell H (1983) Phenotypic plasticity in life-history traits: Demographic effects and evolutionary consequences. Am Zool 23:35–46Google Scholar
  7. Elmore CD (1980) The paradox of no correlation between leaf photosynthetic rates and crop yields. In: Hesketh JD, Jones JW (eds) Predicting photosynthesis for ecosystem models, Vol. 2. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL, pp 155–167Google Scholar
  8. Evans GC, Hughes AP (1961) Plant growth and the aerial environment. I. Effects of artificial shading on Impatiens parviflora. New Phytol 60:150–180Google Scholar
  9. Gifford RM, Evans LT (1981) Photosynthesis, carbon partitioning, and yield. Annu Rev Plant Physiol 32:485–509Google Scholar
  10. Hughes AP, Evans GC (1962) Plant growth and the aerial environment. II. Effects of light intensity on Impatiens parviflora. New Phytol 61:154–174Google Scholar
  11. Hunt R (1978) Plant Growth Analysis. London: Edward ArnoldGoogle Scholar
  12. Loach K (1970) Shade tolerance in tree seedlings. II. Growth analysis of plants raised under artificial shade. New Phytol 69:273–286Google Scholar
  13. Mooney HA, Field C, Gulmon SL, Bazzaz FA (1981) Photosynthetic capacity in relation to leaf position in desert vs. old-field annuals. Oecologia 50:109–112Google Scholar
  14. Myerscough PJ, Whitehead FH (1966) Comparative biology of Tussilago farfara, Chamaenerion angustifolium, Epilobium montanum, and Epilobium adenocaulon. I. General biology and germination. New Phytol 65:192–210Google Scholar
  15. Patterson DT, Flint EP (1983) Comparative water relations, photosynthesis and growth of soybean (Glycine max cultivar Ransom) and seven associated weeds. Weed Sci 31:318–323Google Scholar
  16. Potter JR, Jones JW (1977) Leaf area partitioning as an important factor in plant growth. Plant Physiol 59:10–14Google Scholar
  17. Rice SA, Bazzaz FA (1989) Quantification of plasticity of plant traits: comparing phenotypes at a common weight. Oecologia 78:502–507Google Scholar
  18. Turner NC, Schulze E-O, Gollan T (1984) The response of stomata and leaf gas exchange to vapour pressure deficits and soil water content. I. Species comparisons at high soil water contents. Oecologia 63:338–342Google Scholar
  19. Yun JI, Taylor SE (1986) Adaptive implications of leaf thickness for sun-and shade-grown Abutilon theophrasti. Ecology 67:1314–1318Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stanley A. Rice
    • 1
  • F. A. Bazzaz
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Plant BiologyUniversity of IllinoisUrbanaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Organismic and Evolutionary BiologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

Personalised recommendations