Intraspecific trait variation driven by plasticity and ontogeny in hypochaeris radicata

Rachel M. Mitchell, Jonathan D. Bakker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


The importance of intraspecific variation in plant functional traits for structuring communities and driving ecosystem processes is increasingly recognized, but mechanisms governing this variation are less studied. Variation could be due to adaptation to local conditions, plasticity in observed traits, or ontogeny. We investigated 1) whether abiotic stress caused individuals, maternal lines, and populations to exhibit trait convergence, 2) whether trait variation was primarily due to ecotypic differences or trait plasticity, and 3) whether traits varied with ontogeny. We sampled three populations of Hypochaeris radicata that differed significantly in rosette diameter and specific leaf area (SLA). We grew nine maternal lines from each population (27 lines total) under three greenhouse conditions: ambient conditions (control), 50% drought, or 80% shade. Plant diameter and relative chlorophyll content were measured throughout the experiment, and leaf shape, root:shoot ratio, and SLA were measured after five weeks. We used hierarchical mixed-models and variance component analysis to quantify differences in treatment effects and the contributions of population of origin and maternal line to observed variation. Observed variation in plant traits was driven primarily by plasticity. Shade significantly influenced all measured traits. Plant diameter was the only trait that had a sizable proportion of trait variation (30%) explained by population of origin. There were significant ontogenetic differences for both plant diameter and relative chlorophyll content. When subjected to abiotic stress in the form of light or water limitation, Hypochaeris radicata exhibited significant trait variability. This variation was due primarily to trait plasticity, rather than to adaptation to local conditions, and also differed with ontogeny.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere109870
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 21 2014
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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