Subtle variation in shade avoidance responses has profound consequences for plant competitiveness

There is limited knowledge on how variation in plastic responses plays a role in determining plant competitiveness. To address this issue, Bongers et al. combine experimentations and simulation modelling to test competitiveness for light in Arabidopsis thaliana growing in dense stands.

Overview of the research design, in which three independent experiments (bordered in green) are combined with functional–structural plant (FSP) modelling (bordered in red) to address three questions (bordered in black).
Overview of the research design, in which three independent experiments (bordered in green) are combined with functional–structural plant (FSP) modelling (bordered in red) to address three questions (bordered in black). Data of organ growth and detailed plastic responses of arabidopsis were used to develop an FSP model that included two plastic responses of the shade avoidance syndrome (SAS); hyponasty and petiole elongation. The model design was tested by comparing phenotypic and performance data from plant experiments and model simulation (Scenario 1; bordered in grey). Additional model simulations and plant experiments were performed to validate model output (Scenarios 2 and 3) and answer the three research questions (Scenarios 2–6).

Plant plasticity was represented by changes in leaf angle and petiole elongation in response to R:FR signals, which are typical shade avoidance responses. Results showed that differences in competitiveness may arise between genotypes with only marginally different plastic responses, suggesting that there could have been strong selection for fine-tuning the sensitive shade avoidance responses found in plants.

This paper is part of the Annals of Botany Special Issue on Functional-Structural Plant Growth Modelling. It will be free access until June 2018, then available only to subscribers until April 2019 when it will be free access again.

Further reading

Bongers, F. J., Pierik, R., Anten, N. P. R., & Evers, J. B. (2017). Subtle variation in shade avoidance responses may have profound consequences for plant competitiveness. Annals of Botany, 121(5), 863–873. https://doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcx151