Effects of clonal integration on plant plasticity in Fragaria chiloensis

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Abstract

The ability of clonal plants to transport substances between ramets located in different microsites also allows them to modify the plastic responses of individual ramets to local environmental conditions. By equalising concentrations of substances between ramets, physiological integration might decrease responses to local conditions. However, integration has also been observed to increase plasticity and induce novel plastic responses in ramets. To ask how integration modifies plant plasticity in the clonal herb, Fragaria chiloensis, ramets were given either low light and high nitrogen or high light and low nitrogen, simulating a pattern of resource patchiness in their native habitat. Ramets in contrasting light/nitrogen treatments were either connected or single. Effects of light/nitrogen and connection were measured at three levels of morphological organisation, the organ, the ramet, and the clonal fragment. Connection between ramets reduced or had no effect on plastic responses in leaf size at the level of the plant organ. This suggested that integration dampened certain plastic responses. Connection induced a new plastic response at the level of the clonal fragment, an increase in allocation to vegetative reproduction in patches of low light and high nitrogen. It is concluded that clonal integration can have different effects on plant plasticity at different levels of plant organisation. It appears that, at least in this species, integration can increase plasticity at the level of the clonal fragment and concentrate vegetative reproduction in particular microsite types.

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