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Am Nat. 2009 Feb;173(2):241-55. doi: 10.1086/595761.

Interactive effects of spectral shading and mechanical stress on the expression and costs of shade avoidance.

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  • 1Section of Plant Ecology and Biodiversity, Institute of Environmental Biology, Utrecht University, P.O. Box 800.84, 3508 TB Utrecht, The Netherlands.


The interacting effects of different environmental cues in determining a plant's phenotype and performance are poorly understood aspects of phenotypic plasticity. We examined the interacting effects of shading and mechanical stress (MS) on growth, reproduction, and mechanical stability. We subjected 10 grassland genotypes and 10 forest genotypes of Impatiens capensis to two levels of spectral shading and two levels of MS. Shade induced the production of taller, thinner internodes, but this response was inhibited by MS. This interactive effect was stronger in the grassland genotypes than in the forest genotypes, indicating that shade avoidance can be suppressed by MS and that the degree of this suppression differs between habitats. Among genotypes, greater plasticity in shade-induced internode elongation resulted in a larger reduction in the ability of plants to carry their own weight. This suggests that the occurrence of mechanical constraints may strongly contribute to the selection against shade-induced elongation responses in forest understory genotypes. Our results show that combined responses to different environmental cues can result in a fine-tuning of phenotypic expression by plants by maintaining the potential to strongly respond to single environmental cues but also by preventing potential future costs resulting from poor adaptation to other stresses.

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