Classification of intra-specific variation in plant functional strategies reveals adaptation to climate

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Abstract

Background and Aims

In plants, extensive intra-specific variation exists in the allocation of resources between vegetative growth and reproduction, reflecting different functional strategies. A simple method for the classification of intra-specific variation in these strategies would enable characterization of evolutionary and ecological processes.

Methods

C-S-R theory can be applied to classify functional strategies (competitive C; stress tolerant, S; ruderal, R) in different plant species. Using a diverse set of arabidopsis (Arabidopsis thaliana) accessions grown under common conditions, it was tested whether a simple approach designed for allocating C-S-R strategies at the species level can also be used to analyse intra-specific variation.

Key Results

Substantial intra-specific variation between arabidopsis accessions was found along the S-R axis. There was a positive correlation of temperature at the geographical origin with the dimension of S and a negative correlation with the dimension of R. Flowering time in a natural annual cycle and leaf dry matter content were identified as the main determinants of this adaptation, with plants originating from warmer climates having a higher leaf dry matter content and flowering earlier in a common garden.

Conclusions

It was shown that functional strategies reflect adaptation to climate, with consequences for important traits such as fecundity and total plant dry weight. The approach could be used in genome-wide association studies to determine the genetic basis of functional strategies in wild species or crops.

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