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Phenotypic plasticity may allow organisms to cope with variation in the environmental conditions they encounter in their natural habitats. Salt adaptation appears to be an excellent example of such a plastic response. Many plant species accumulate organic solutes in response to saline conditions. Comparative and molecular studies suggest that this is an adaptation to osmotic stress. However, evidence relating the physiological responses to fitness parameters is rare and requires assessing the potential costs and benefits of plasticity. We studied the response of thirty families derived from plants collected in three populations of Plantago coronopus in a greenhouse experiment under saline and non- saline conditions. We indeed found a positive selection gradient for the sorbitol percentage under saline conditions: plant families with a higher proportion of sorbitol produced more spikes. No effects of sorbitol on fitness parameters were found under non-saline conditions. Populations also differed genetically in leaf number, spike number, sorbitol concentration and percentages of different soluble sugars. Salt treatment led to a reduction of vegetative biomass and spike production but increased leaf dry matter percentage and leaf thickness. Both under saline and non-saline conditions there was a negative trade-off between vegetative growth and reproduction. Families with a high plasticity in leaf thickness had a lower total spike length under non-saline conditions. This would imply that natural selection under predominantly non-saline conditions would lead to a decrease in the ability to change leaf morphology in response to exposure to salt. All other tests revealed no indication for any costs of plasticity to saline conditions. [KEYWORDS: salt adaptation; Plantago coronopus; phenotypic plasticity reaction norms; salt tolerance; life-history; evolution; limits; growth; populations; allocation;selection]
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-200
JournalActa Oecologica
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2001

ID: 378340