Reaction norms of Arabidopsis. V. Flowering time controls phenotypic architecture in response to nutrient stress

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Abstract

The evolutionary and environmental stability of character correlations has increasingly been the focus of ecological and quantitative genetic studies. Although the genetic stability of character correlations is a central assumption of quantitative genetic models of phenotypic evolution, theoretical considerations suggest that both the genetic and the phenotypic architecture should change in response to selection and to environmental heterogeneity. We investigate genetic (population) differences and plasticity to nutrient availability of the phenotypic architecture describing the whole-plant phenotype of Arabidopsis thaliana (Brassicaceae). We found significant genetic differences among early and late flowering ecotypes in the relationships between several traits, when a path-analytical model was used to estimate character correlations. Furthermore, we found significant plasticity of several path coefficients when nutrient levels were altered. A whole-plant analysis considering all paths in the model simultaneously confirmed that populations of A. thaliana are characterized by distinct phenotypic architectures, and that these are altered in different ways by environmental changes. We discuss the implications of these findings for our understanding of selective pressure on and response by multivariate phenotypes.

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