Habitat Range and Phenotypic Variation in Salt Marsh Plants

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Environmental gradient, Height forms, Intra-specific variation, Phenotypic plasticity, Salinity, Sapelo Island, Water-logging

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Ecologists have long speculated that species with wider environmental ranges would have broader ranges in phe notype; however, most tests of this hypothesis have involved small numbers of species and/or closely related taxa. We related phenotypic variation in twelve salt marsh plant species from six families to variation in four environmental variables using multiple regression. Within species, plant phenotype was predictably related to environmental variation. Salinity was the most common predictor of plant traits, followed by organic content, water content and elevation. Across species, regressions of single plant trait CVs on range (2 x SD) of single environmental variables were not significant and did not support the hypothesis that species occupying broad environmental ranges would have broad ranges in phenotypes. However, regression of a composite phenotypic PCA1 on a composite environmental PCA1 showed a marginally significant (P = 0.054) linear relationship for 10 species. Considering the different patterns of response across species, the lack of a relationship between vari ation in single phenotypic traits and single environmental variables is likely because the distantly-related taxa employed fundamentally different morphological and physiological strategies to respond to environmental stress gradients. The significant relationship between composite environmental and phenotypic variables reflects the complex nature of species phenotypic response to multivariate environmental gradients. Specifically, in this sys tem, species increase variation in the number of leaves, but decrease variation in leaf size in response to an increase in range of salinity and decrease in range of water and organic content.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Plant Ecology, v. 176, issue 2, p. 263-273