• adaptive plasticity;
  • density responses;
  • Picea omorika;
  • plasticity costs;
  • shade avoidance syndrome;
  • trait correlations

The adaptiveness of shade avoidance responses to density was studied in Picea omorika seedlings raised in a growth-room. Siblings of a synthetic population comprising 117 families from six natural populations were exposed to contrasting density conditions in order to score variation in phenotypic expression of several epicotyl and bud traits included in the shade avoidance syndrome. As predicted for the adaptive plasticity to foliage shade, epicotyl elongation traits tended toward higher, while axillary bud traits toward lower values in high-density vs. low-density conditions. Phenotypic selection analysis revealed that the elongated plants had greater relative fitness than the suppressed ones in both density treatments which could be ascribed to the effect of direct selection on epicotyl length. There was no evidence for plasticity costs associated with the expression of the shade avoidance phenotype either under low or under high density, with only a single exception. Estimates of variance component genetic correlations across densities were significantly different from unity for the majority of the seedling traits studied, indicating the existence of heritable variation within reaction norms of these traits. However, since all these correlations were positive in sign and large in magnitude, this conclusively means that the level of the additive genetic variation for plasticity in the shade-avoidance traits of P. omorika is rather low.