Environmental heterogeneity and population differentiation in plasticity to drought in Convolvulus chilensis (Convolvulaceae)
Plant populations may show differentiation in phenotypic plasticity, and theory predicts that greater levels of environmental heterogeneity should select for higher magnitudes of phenotypic plasticity. We evaluated phenotypic responses to reduced soil moisture in plants of Convolvulus chilensis grown in a greenhouse from seeds collected in three natural populations that differ in environmental heterogeneity (precipitation regime). Among several morphological and ecophysiological traits evaluated, only four traits showed differentiation among populations in plasticity to soil moisture: leaf area, leaf shape, leaf area ratio (LAR), and foliar trichome density. In all of these traits plasticity to drought was greatest in plants from the population with the highest interannual variation in precipitation. We further tested the adaptive nature of these plastic responses by evaluating the relationship between phenotypic traits and total biomass, as a proxy for plant fitness, in the low water environment. Foliar trichome density appears to be the only trait that shows adaptive patterns of plasticity to drought. Plants from populations showing plasticity had higher trichome density when growing in soils with reduced moisture, and foliar trichome density was positively associated with total biomass.
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