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Changes in reproductive investment with altitude in an alpine plant

Oxford University Press
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  • Biology
  • Ecology
  • Geography
  • Medicine


Aims In perennial species, the allocation of resources to reproduction results in a reduction of allocation to vegetative growth and, therefore, impacts future reproductive success. As a consequence, variation in this trade-off is among the most important driving forces in the life-history evolution of perennial plants and can lead to locally adapted genotypes. In addition to genetic variation, phenotypic plasticity might also contribute to local adaptation of plants to local conditions by mediating changes in reproductive allocation. Knowledge on the importance of genetic and environmental effects on the trade-off between reproduction and vegetative growth is therefore essential to understand how plants may respond to environmental changes. Methods We conducted a transplant experiment along an altitudinal gradient from 425 m to 1921 m in the front range of the Western Alps of Switzerland to assess the influence of both altitudinal origin of populations and altitude of growing site on growth, reproductive allocation and local adaptation in Poa alpina. The proportion of the number of reproductive tillers by the total number of tillers - was used as a proxy for reproductive allocation. Important findings In our study, the investment in reproduction increased with plant size. Plant growth and the relative importance of reproductive investment decreased in populations originating from higher altitudes compared to populations originating from lower altitudes. The changes in reproductive investment were mainly explained by differences in plant size. In contrast to genetic effects, phenotypic plasticity of all traits measured was low and not related to altitude. As a result, the population from the lowest altitude of origin performed best at all sites. Our results indicate that in P. alpina genetic differences in growth and reproductive investment are related to local conditions affecting growth, i.e. interspecific competition and soil moisture content.

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