• Chilling stress;
  • developmental patterns;
  • morphological variation;
  • plasticity costs;
  • reserve carbohydrates;
  • Triticum spp


Phenotypic plasticity of two primitive wheat species (Triticum monococcum L. and Triticum dicoccum S.) was studied in response to early chilling stress. Selection pressure differentials, gradients and plasticity costs on plant morphogenesis, growth and reserve carbohydrate consumption were estimated. Regression analysis was applied to investigate differential developmental changes and patterns between treatments. Four-day-old seedlings of T. monococcum and T. dicoccum, differing in plant stature and reserve carbohydrates, were given an early chilling temperature (4 °C for 42 day) and compared with control plants grown at 23 °C. Early chilling stress resulted in a significant increase in leaf mass ratio (LMR) and relative growth rate (RGR), a reduction in flag leaf size, total biomass, specific leaf area (SLA) and reserve carbohydrate storage at flowering, together with advanced onset of flowering. Selection pressure within the early chilling environment favoured early flowering, smaller SLA, higher LMR and lower reserve carbohydrates, suggesting the observed responses were adaptive. Furthermore, a regression of daily cumulative plant biomass derived from a crop growth simulation model (CERES-Wheat) on crop vegetation period revealed a divergent developmental pattern in early-chilled plants. Using selection pressure gradient analysis, we found similar responses among these traits, except for SLA and sucrose, indicating that these two traits have indirect effects on fitness. Thus, the total effects of SLA and reserve sucrose on relative fitness seem to be buffered via the rapid growth rate in chilled plants. While lower SLA may reduce early chilling stress effects at an individual leaf level, a higher LMR and use of reserve carbohydrates indicated that compensatory growth of chilled plants during the recovery period relied on the concerted action of altered resource allocation and reserve carbohydrate consumption. However, a significant cost of plasticity was evident only for flowering time, LMR and fructan levels in the early chilling environment. Our results demonstrate that morphological and intrinsic developmental (ontogenetic) patterns in two Triticum species respond to early chilling stress.