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Keywords:

  • adaptation;
  • clonal growth;
  • genetic variation;
  • guerrilla;
  • phalanx;
  • phenotypic plasticity;
  • Ranunculus reptans;
  • reproductive allocation;
  • selection

Abstract Life history evolution of many clonal plants takes place with long periods of exclusively clonal reproduction and under largely varying ramet densities resulting from clonal reproduction. We asked whether life history traits of the clonal herb Ranunculus reptans respond to density-dependent selection, and whether plasticity in these traits is adaptive. After four generations of exclusively clonal propagation of 16 low and 16 high ramet-density lines, we studied life history traits and their plasticities at two test ramet-densities. Plastic responses to higher test-density consisted of a shift from sexual to vegetative reproduction, and reduced flower production, plant size, branching frequency, and lengths of leaves and internodes. Plants of high-density lines tended to have longer leaves, and under high test-density branched less frequently than those of low-density lines. Directions of these selection responses indicate that the observed plastic branching response is adaptive, whereas the plastic leaf length response is not. The reverse branching frequency pattern at low test-density, where plants of high-density lines branched more frequently than those of low-density lines, indicates evolution of plasticity in branching. Moreover, when grown under less stressful low test-density, plants of high-density lines tended to grow larger than the ones of low-density lines. We conclude that ramet density affects clonal life-history evolution and that under exclusively clonal propagation clonal life-history traits and their plasticities evolve differently at different ramet densities.