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PLoS One. 2009 Oct 29;4(10):e7653. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0007653.

Phenotypic plasticity of leaf shape along a temperature gradient in Acer rubrum.

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Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, USA.


Both phenotypic plasticity and genetic determination can be important for understanding how plants respond to environmental change. However, little is known about the plastic response of leaf teeth and leaf dissection to temperature. This gap is critical because these leaf traits are commonly used to reconstruct paleoclimate from fossils, and such studies tacitly assume that traits measured from fossils reflect the environment at the time of their deposition, even during periods of rapid climate change. We measured leaf size and shape in Acer rubrum derived from four seed sources with a broad temperature range and grown for two years in two gardens with contrasting climates (Rhode Island and Florida). Leaves in the Rhode Island garden have more teeth and are more highly dissected than leaves in Florida from the same seed source. Plasticity in these variables accounts for at least 6-19% of the total variance, while genetic differences among ecotypes probably account for at most 69-87%. This study highlights the role of phenotypic plasticity in leaf-climate relationships. We suggest that variables related to tooth count and leaf dissection in A. rubrum can respond quickly to climate change, which increases confidence in paleoclimate methods that use these variables.

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