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Phenotypic integration may constrain phenotypic plasticity in plants


  • Ernesto Gianoli,

  • Kattia Palacio-López

E. Gianoli ( and K. Palacio-López, Depto de Botánica, Univ. de Concepción, Casilla 160-C Concepción, Chile. EG also at: Depto de Biología, Univ. de La Serena, Casilla 599 La Serena, Chile.


Phenotypic plasticity is essential for plant adaptation to changing environments but some factors limit its expression, causing plants to fail in producing the best phenotype for a given environment. Phenotypic integration refers to the pattern and magnitude of character correlations and it might play a role as an internal constraint to phenotypic plasticity. We tested the hypothesis that phenotypic integration – estimated as the number of significant phenotypic correlations between traits – constrains phenotypic plasticity of plants. The rationale is that, for any phenotypic trait, the more linked with other traits it is, the more limited is its range of variation. In the perennial species Convolvulus chilensis (Convolvulaceae) and Lippia alba (Verbenaceae) we determined the relationship between phenotypic plasticity to relevant environmental factors – shading for C. chilensis and drought for L. alba– and the magnitude of phenotypic integration of morphological and biomass allocation traits. In C. chilensis plants, plasticity to shading of a given trait decreased with the number of significant correlations that it had with the other traits. Likewise, the characters that showed greater plasticity to experimental drought in L. alba plants had fewer significant phenotypic correlations with other characters. We report a novel limit to phenotypic plasticity of plants by showing that the phenotypic trait architecture may constrain their plastic, functional responses to the environment.