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Arts and Sciences

Abstract

While some plants are mobile and able to physically distribute to more suitable environments, other plants have limited dispersal ability and must find alternate ways to adjust to changing conditions in situ through adaptation or plasticity. Predicted changes in abiotic pressures, including drought stress and warmer temperatures, may influence the phenotypic expression of traits in plant populations through these mechanisms. In this study, we used a reciprocal transplant approach to investigate the temporal and spatial patterns of plasticity in a native perennial mustard, Boechera stricta, in the Rocky Mountains. Specifically, we explore how a temporal gradient that reflects drought stress over three growing seasons affects plasticity in a suite of functional traits. Additionally, we investigate plasticity between genotypes of B. stricta over micro- and macro-environmental scales. By tracking foliar and phenological traits over three years, we found equivalent plasticity within and between sites, suggesting that B. stricta can respond to environment at small spatial scales. Additionally, plasticity was consistent with drought stress as plants exhibited enhanced water use efficiency in dry years. We demonstrate that plasticity occurs at small spatial and temporal scales, and our results suggest that plasticity may allow plants and other organisms to phenotypically keep pace with climate change by enhancing immediate survival. This project was conducted as part of the research of Jill Anderson of the University of Georgia. Thanks to Jill Anderson, her lab, and her collaborators for the establishment and maintenance of the experimental gardens, laboratory processing, and support through the project.

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Plasticity in a changing world: phenotypic variability in Boechera stricta across space and time

While some plants are mobile and able to physically distribute to more suitable environments, other plants have limited dispersal ability and must find alternate ways to adjust to changing conditions in situ through adaptation or plasticity. Predicted changes in abiotic pressures, including drought stress and warmer temperatures, may influence the phenotypic expression of traits in plant populations through these mechanisms. In this study, we used a reciprocal transplant approach to investigate the temporal and spatial patterns of plasticity in a native perennial mustard, Boechera stricta, in the Rocky Mountains. Specifically, we explore how a temporal gradient that reflects drought stress over three growing seasons affects plasticity in a suite of functional traits. Additionally, we investigate plasticity between genotypes of B. stricta over micro- and macro-environmental scales. By tracking foliar and phenological traits over three years, we found equivalent plasticity within and between sites, suggesting that B. stricta can respond to environment at small spatial scales. Additionally, plasticity was consistent with drought stress as plants exhibited enhanced water use efficiency in dry years. We demonstrate that plasticity occurs at small spatial and temporal scales, and our results suggest that plasticity may allow plants and other organisms to phenotypically keep pace with climate change by enhancing immediate survival. This project was conducted as part of the research of Jill Anderson of the University of Georgia. Thanks to Jill Anderson, her lab, and her collaborators for the establishment and maintenance of the experimental gardens, laboratory processing, and support through the project.

 

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