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Variation in phenotypic plasticity for native and invasive populations of Bromus tectorum


Phenotypic plasticity is often considered important for invasive plant success, yet relatively few studies have assessed plasticity in both native and invasive populations of the same species. We examined the plastic response to temperature for Bromus tectorum populations collected from similar shrub-steppe environments in the Republics of Armenia and Georgia, where it is native, and along an invasive front in California and Nevada. Plants were grown in growth chambers in either ‘warm’ (30/20 °C, day/night) or ‘cold’ (10/5 °C) conditions. Invasive populations exhibited greater adaptive plasticity than natives for freezing tolerance (as measured by chlorophyll a fluorescence), such that invasive populations grown in the cold treatment exhibited the highest tolerance. Invasive populations also exhibited more rapid seedling emergence in response to warm temperatures compared to native populations. The climatic conditions of population source locations were related to emergence timing for invasive populations and to freezing tolerance across all populations combined. Plasticity in growth-related traits such as biomass, allocation, leaf length, and photosynthesis did not differ between native and invasive populations. Rather, some growth-related traits were very plastic across all populations, which may help to dampen differences in biomass in contrasting environments. Thus, invasive populations were found to be particularly plastic for some important traits such as seedling emergence and freezing tolerance, but plasticity at the species level may also be an important factor in the invasive ability of B. tectorum.

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