• ecotypes;
  • genetic variability;
  • leaf azimuth;
  • phenotypic plasticity;
  • photochemical efficiency


  • 1
    Quercus coccifera, a slow-growing, evergreen oak, grows in contrasting environments in the Mediterranean Basin. Habitat-based selection may have promoted divergence between populations with respect to phenotypic plasticity and genetic variability.
  • 2
     We tested the hypothesis that populations of the Q. coccifera originating from a rock outcrop, a continental garrigue formation and an oceanic forest would differ in their plastic response to light intensity. Plants from these populations were grown from acorns in a common garden at 100% and 20% full sunlight. Light response analysis was based on photochemical efficiency, xanthophyll pool, nutrient allocation, growth, crown architecture and light absorption.
  • 3
     Light-responsive characters ranged from the subcellular to the whole-plant level. The greatest divergences between sun and shade phenotypes were observed in leaf size, leaf angle and leaf area ratio. However, plasticity in these traits depended on plant provenance.
  • 4
     Regardless of the level of organization, populations were invariably ranked in the same order of plasticity when averaged over light-responsive features, with plants originating from the rock outcrop showing the least plasticity and those from the forest the largest. The forest population also had the greatest genetic variability with respect to the isoperoxidase polymorphism.
  • 5
    Among populations, plants originating from the phosphorus-deficient rock outcrop contained 30% more P per unit dry weight. Plants from the forest population had 5% more photoprotective xanthophylls, 30% larger total leaf area, with less lobed and larger leaves and a differential plasticity in leaf azimuth.
  • 6
    Differences among populations suggested ecotypic differentiation towards less phenotypic plasticity in the most homogeneous light environments. The ecological breadth of the species seemed to be derived not only from its tolerance of Mediterranean conditions but also from the specialization of its populations in contrasting habitats.