Density-Induced Plant Size Reduction and Size Inequalities in Ethylene-Sensing and Ethylene-Insensitive Tobacco

Authors

  • R. Pierik,

    Corresponding author
    1. Dept. of Experimental Plant Ecology, University of Nijmegen, Toernooiveld, 6525 ED Nijmegen, The Netherlands
    2. Dept. of Plant Ecophysiology, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands
      Plant Ecophysiology Faculty of Biology Utrecht University Sorbonnelaan 16 3584 CA Utrecht The Netherlands E-mail: r.pierik@bio.uu.nl
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  • L. A. C. J. Voesenek,

    1. Dept. of Plant Ecophysiology, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands
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  • H. de Kroon,

    1. Dept. of Experimental Plant Ecology, University of Nijmegen, Toernooiveld, 6525 ED Nijmegen, The Netherlands
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  • E. J. W. Visser

    1. Dept. of Experimental Plant Ecology, University of Nijmegen, Toernooiveld, 6525 ED Nijmegen, The Netherlands
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Plant Ecophysiology Faculty of Biology Utrecht University Sorbonnelaan 16 3584 CA Utrecht The Netherlands E-mail: r.pierik@bio.uu.nl

Abstract

Abstract: Plant competition for light is a commonly occurring phenomenon in natural and agricultural vegetations. It is typically size-asymmetric, meaning that slightly larger individuals receive a disproportionate share of the light, leaving a limited amount of light for the initially smaller individuals. As a result, size inequalities of such stands increase with competition intensity. A plant's ability to respond morphologically to the presence of neighbour plants with enhanced shoot elongation, the so-called shade avoidance response, acts against the development of size inequalities. This has been shown experimentally with transgenic plants that cannot sense neighbours and, therefore, show no shade avoidance responses. Stands of such transgenic plants showed a much stronger development of size inequalities at high plant densities than did wild type (WT) stands. However, the transgenic plants used in these experiments displayed severely hampered growth rates and virtually no response to neighbours. In order to more precisely study the impact of this phenotypic plasticity on size inequality development, experiments required plants that have normal growth rates and reduced, but not absent, shade avoidance responses. We made use of an ethylene-insensitive, transgenic tobacco genotype (Tetr) that has wild type growth rates and moderately reduced shade avoidance responses to neighbours. Here, we show that the development of size inequalities in monocultures of these plants is not affected unambiguously different from wild type monocultures. Plots of Tetr plants developed higher inequalities for stem length than did WT, but monocultures of the two genotypes had identical CV (Coefficient of Variance) values for shoot biomass that increased with plant density. Therefore, even though reduced shade avoidance capacities led to the expected higher size inequalities for stem length, this does not necessarily lead to increased size inequalities for shoot biomass.

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