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Environmental heterogeneity leads to higher plasticity in dry-edge populations of a semi-arid Chilean shrub: insights into climate change responses

By Ana Lázaro-Nogal, Silvia Matesanz, Alice Godoy, Fernanda Pérez-Trautman, Ernesto Gianoli and Fernando Valladares Ros


1. Interannual variability in climatic conditions should be taken into account in climate change studies in semi-arid ecosystems. It may determine differentiation in phenotypic plasticity among populations, with populations experiencing higher environmental heterogeneity showing higher levels of plasticity.2. The ability of populations to evolve key functional traits and plasticity may determine the survival of plant populations under the drier and more variable climate expected for semi-arid ecosystems.3. Working with populations of the semi-arid Chilean shrub Senna candolleana along its entire distribution range, we assessed inter- and intra-population variation in functional traits as well as in their plasticity in response to water availability. We measured morphological and physiological traits related to drought resistance in both field conditions and in a greenhouse experiment, where drought response was evaluated under two water availability treatments.4. All populations responded plastically, but higher precipitation heterogeneity in dry-edge populations seemed to have selected for more plastic genotypes compared to populations growing at mesic sites and with more homogeneous environmental conditions.5. Synthesis. Our results suggest adaptive plasticity since higher levels of phenotypic plasticity were positively associated with plant performance. However, we did not find evidence for genetic variation for plasticity within populations. To the extent that phenotypic plasticity may play a key role in future persistence, populations at mesic sites may be more vulnerable to climate change due to their lower plasticity and their current limitations to evolve novel norms of reaction. Conversely, although Senna candolleana populations at the dry edge are exposed to higher levels of stress, they may be less susceptible to climate change in view of their greater plasticity. We highlight the need to consider population differentiation in both mean traits and their plasticity to model realistic scenarios of species distribution under climate change.Funding was provided by the Spanish Ministry for Innovation and Science with the grants Consolider Montes (CSD2008_00040) and VULGLO (CGL2010-22180-C03-03).Peer reviewe

Topics: Adaptive plasticity, Drought, Evolutionary potential, Genetic variability, Natural selection, Population differentiation, Precipitation heterogeneity, Relative growth rate, Senna candolleana, Water use efficiency
Publisher: British Ecological Society
Year: 2015
DOI identifier: 10.1111/1365-2745.12372
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Provided by: Digital.CSIC
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