Plasticity to wind is modular and genetically variable in Arabidopsis thaliana

Bossdorf, Oliver ; Pigliucci, Massimo

In: Evolutionary Ecology, 2009, vol. 23, no. 5, p. 669-685

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    Thigmomorphogenesis, the characteristic phenotypic changes by which plants react to mechanical stress, is a widespread and probably adaptive type of phenotypic plasticity. However, little is known about its genetic basis and population variation. Here, we examine genetic variation for thigmomorphogenesis within and among natural populations of the model system Arabidopsis thaliana. Offspring from 17 field-collected European populations was subjected to three levels of mechanical stress exerted by wind. Overall, plants were remarkably tolerant to mechanical stress. Even high wind speed did not significantly alter the correlation structure among phenotypic traits. However, wind significantly affected plant growth and phenology, and there was genetic variation for some aspects of plasticity to wind among A. thaliana populations. Our most interesting finding was that phenotypic traits were organized into three distinct and to a large degree statistically independent covariance modules associated with plant size, phenology, and growth form, respectively. These phenotypic modules differed in their responsiveness to wind, in the degree of genetic variability for plasticity, and in the extent to which plasticity affected fitness. It is likely, therefore, that thigmomorphogenesis in this species evolves quasi-independently in different phenotypic modules