Variation in petiole and internode length affects plant performance in Trifolium repens under opposing selection regimes
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We studied the effects of genotypic and plastic variation in vertical and horizontal spacer lengths on plant performance in a stoloniferous herb subjected to opposing selection regimes. We hypothesized that longer vertical structures are beneficial if plants are subjected to competition, but they should negatively affect plant performance if plants are exposed to aboveground disturbance. To test these hypotheses we subjected 34 genotypes of Trifolium repens to competition and disturbance treatments. Competition was imposed by a grass canopy consisting of Lolium perenne, and disturbance was simulated by regularly clipping the target plants and all the surrounding vegetation at 1 cm above soil level. Conform to our hypothesis, genotypes with longer vertical structures (petioles) produced fewer ramets than genotypes with shorter petioles in the disturbance treatment. However, genotypes with longer petioles did not perform better under competition than genotypes with shorter petioles. Genotypes with highly plastic vertical structures tended to produce more shoot mass under competition, and they produced fewer ramets if subjected to disturbance. Unexpectedly, horizontal structures (stolon internodes) expanded in response to competition which, furthermore, was associated with enhanced plant performance. However, producing longer internodes is inherently associated with costs in terms of increased resource allocation to the longer structures, but not to benefits in terms of increased resource capture. Positive correlations among the length and plasticity of vertical and horizontal structures may explain the apparent positive effect of producing longer internodes on plant performance. Our data thus support the notion that trait correlations may weaken selective forces acting on a focal trait in a specific environment if opposing selection pressures act on genetically correlated traits.
KeywordsCompetition Disturbance Shade avoidance Phenotypic plasticity Vertical and horizontal spacers
We are grateful to J. F. Cahill for his valuable statistical ideas and to E. J. von Wettberg for his helpful conceptual discussions. This manuscript has been greatly improved by the helpful comments made by two anonymous referees.
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