• costs and benefits;
  • homogeneous shade;
  • leaf area;
  • light gradient;
  • petiole elongation;
  • phenotypic plasticity;
  • shade avoidance;
  • selection analysis


  • • 
    We tested whether the degree of shade-induced plasticity in petiole length and leaf area is related to the mean trait value expressed under high-light conditions, and to what extent trait values expressed under high-light and shaded conditions affect plant performance.
  • • 
    Thirty-four Trifolium repens genotypes were used with a wide range of petiole lengths and leaf areas. Plants were subjected to a high-light environment and two shading regimes: homogeneous shading and a vertical light gradient.
  • • 
    Absolute petiole elongation in response to both shading treatments and absolute leaf area expansion in response to homogeneous shading were independent of the trait values expressed in high light. Consequently, relative plasticity was higher for genotypes with lower high-light trait values. Plasticity was associated with enhanced plant performance in a vertical light gradient but not in homogeneously shaded conditions. We also found costs associated with the ability to express plasticity.
  • • 
    Our results suggest that selection can act separately on trait values expressed under high-light conditions and on the degree of plasticity.