Evol Ecol Res 15: 829-846 (2013)     Full PDF if your library subscribes.

Phenotypic plasticity of Thellungiella salsaginea in response to saline stress

B.Q. Yao2, C.M. Zhao1, J.M. Deng1, H.K. Zhou2, X.Q. Zhao2 and J.Q. Liu1

1Division of Molecular Ecology, Key Laboratory of Arid and Grassland Ecology, Ministry of Education, School of Life Sciences, Lanzhou University, Lanzhou, China and  2Key Laboratory of Adaptation and Evolution of Plateau Biota, Northwest Institute of Plateau Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Qinghai, China

Correspondence: Jianming Deng, Division of Molecular Ecology, Key Laboratory of Arid and Grassland Ecology, Ministry of Education, School of Life Sciences, Lanzhou University, Lanzhou 730000, China.
e-mail: dengjm@lzu.edu.cn;


Background: Theoretical and empirical studies have shown that phenotypic plasticity can contribute to plant fitness by augmenting the ability of a plant to adapt to or tolerate novel conditions. Genetic analysis of Thellungiella salsaginea (salt cress, Brassicaceae) with neutral nuclear markers revealed no genetic variation within or among populations despite the wide variety of phenotypes in this species. Phenotypic variation is likely due to plasticity.

Goal: To examine the characteristics of phenotypic plasticity and its intrinsic constraint (i.e. trait integration) of several phenotypic traits in response to salt stress in populations of T. salsaginea with a homogeneous, neutral genetic background.

Organism: Thellungiella salsaginea is a halophyte that is widely distributed in the saline regions of northern China.

Methods: Seeds were collected from seven natural populations at distantly separated locations along a saline gradient. Plants were grown from seeds in a growth chamber, and growth and physiological traits were measured under conditions of saline stress. Experiments were performed in a greenhouse at Lanzhou University, China.

Results: All traits exhibited considerable plasticity in response to the various levels of salinity. Moreover, various patterns in plasticity were found among the seven populations. The degrees of trait integration were relatively low (mean difference of the correlation coefficients = 0.711). Moreover, the integration patterns varied between individual traits and treatments among populations. Thus, the ability of this species to adapt should be attributed to high plasticity and low integration, as well as to the various patterns of plasticity and integration among populations, which probably resulted from epigenetic changes among the populations.

Keywords: growing traits, phenotypic integration, phenotypic plasticity, physiological traits, population, Thellungiella salsaginea.

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