Variation of morphological and chemical traits in sexes of the dioecious perennial grass Poa ligularis in relation to shrub cover and aridity in Patagonian ecosystems
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Sexes of dioecious species may have dimorphic responses to environmental variation due to differences in resource requirements and reproductive costs. We analyzed the effect of aridity/relative shrub cover, and vicinity to shrub patches on morpho-chemical traits of sexes of the dioecious perennial grass Poa ligularis in patchy arid ecosystems in northern-central Patagonia. We hypothesized that sexes of P. ligularis have dimorphic responses in morpho-chemical traits in relation to the environmental variation induced by aridity/relative shrub cover and vicinity to shrub patches. We selected seven sites across a gradient of increasing aridity and relative shrub cover. We randomly collected 5–10 P. ligularis plants per site registering the sex (female or male) and location with respect to shrub patches (shrub patch or inter-patch). For each plant, we assessed morpho-chemical traits (height of the vegetative tillers, length/dry weight/area of blades, specific blade area, nitrogen and soluble phenol concentration in blades). Sexes showed dimorphic responses in height of vegetative tillers, blade length, and blade area with respect to vicinity to shrub patches; and in variation of soluble phenolics in blades in relation to aridity/relative shrub cover. Responses in both sexes were opposite to those expected by aridity, highlighting the role of favorable environments induced by shrub canopies on dimorphic responses of sexes of P. ligularis. Resource-rich microsites associated with shrub canopies promoted increased plant performance of females with high reproductive costs while resource-poor open areas, favorable for pollen dispersal, induced improved chemical defenses of males. These results are consistent with the resource availability hypothesis.
KeywordsArid Patagonia Inter-patch areas Plant defenses Sexual dimorphism Shrub patches Vegetative growth
This research was supported by Projects PICT 1349-1368 of the National Agency for Scientific and Technological Promotion (ANPCyT) and PIP-112-200801-01664-CONICET. Laura Moreno was supported by a CONICET research fellowship. This research complies with the current laws of Argentina.
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