Plant species from unproductive or adverse habitats are often characterized by a low potential relative growth rate (RGR). Although it is generally assumed that this is the result of selection for specific trait combinations that are associated with a low rate of net biomass accumulation, few studies have directly investigated the selective (dis-)advantage of specific growth parameters under a set of different environmental conditions. Aim of the present study was to quantify the impact of inherent differences in growth parameters among phenotypes of a single plant species, Lychnis flos-cuculi, on their performance under different soil nutrient conditions. Growth analysis revealed significant variation in RGR among progeny families from a diallel cross between eight genotypes originating from a single population. Differences in RGR were due to variation in both leaf area ratio (LAR) and in net assimilation rate (NAR). A genetic trade-off was observed between these two components of growth, i.e. progeny families with high investment in leaf area had a lower rate of net biomass accumulation per unit leaf area. The degree of plasticity in RGR to nutrient conditions did not differ among progeny families. Inherent differences in growth parameters among progeny families had a significant impact on their yield in competition with Anthoxanthum odoratum and Taraxacum hollandicum. In nutrient-rich conditions, progeny families with an inherently high leaf weight ratio (LWR) achieved higher yield in competition, but variation in this trait could not explain differences in competitive yield under nutrient-poor conditions. Inherent differences in growth parameters among progeny families were poorly correlated with differences in survival and average rosette biomass (a good predictor of fecundity) among these progeny families sown in four field sites along a natural gradient of soil fertility. In the more productive sites none of the growth parameters was significantly correlated with rosette biomass, but in the least productive site progeny families with an inherently high specific leaf area (SLA) tended to produce smaller rosettes than low-SLA families. These results are consistent with the view that a selective advantage may accrue from either high or low values of individual RGR components, depending on habitat conditions, and that the selective advantage of low trait values in nutrient-poor environments may result in indirect selection for low RGR in these habitats. [KEYWORDS: competitive ability, leaf area ratio, Lychnis flos-cuculi, net assimilation rate, phenotypic selection, relative growth rate]
Original languageEnglish
JournalPlant and Soil
Journal publication date1996

ID: 231897