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Small-scale Heterogeneity in Soil Quality Influences Photosynthetic Efficiency and Habitat Selection in a Clonal Plant

Annals of botany 2006 v.98 no.5 pp. 1043-1052
Fragaria vesca, strawberries, stolons, plant growth, photosynthesis, net assimilation rate, chlorophyll, fluorescence, photosynthates, nutrient transport, water uptake, source-sink relationships, plant morphology, soil chemistry, Spain
BACKGROUND: and Aims In clonal plants, internode connections allow translocation of photosynthates, water, nutrients and other substances among ramets. Clonal plants form large systems that are likely to experience small-scale spatial heterogeneity. Physiological and morphological responses of Fragaria vesca to small-scale heterogeneity in soil quality were investigated, together with how such heterogeneity influences the placement of ramets. As a result of their own activities plants may modify the suitability of their habitats over time. However, most experiments on habitat selection by clonal plants have not generally considered time as an important variable. In the present study, how the foraging behaviour of clonal plants may change over time was also investigated. METHODS: In a complex of environments with different heterogeneity, plant performance was determined in terms of biomass, ramet production and photosynthetic activity. To identify habitat selection, the number of ramets produced and patch where they rooted were monitored. Key Results Parent ramets in heterogeneous environments showed significantly higher maximum and effective quantum yields of photosystem II than parents in homogeneous environments. Parents in heterogeneous environments also showed significantly higher investment in photosynthetic biomass and stolon/total biomass, produced longer stolons, and had higher mean leaf size than parents in homogeneous environments. Total biomass and number of offspring ramets were similar in both environments. However, plants in homogeneous environments showed random allocation of offspring ramets to surrounding patches, whereas plants in heterogeneous environments showed preferential allocation of offspring to higher-quality patches. CONCLUSIONS: The results suggest that F. vesca employs physiological and morphological strategies to enable efficient resource foraging in heterogeneous environments and demonstrate the benefits of physiological integration in terms of photosynthetic efficiency. The findings indicate that short-term responses cannot be directly extrapolated to the longer term principally because preferential colonization of high-quality patches means that these patches eventually show reduced quality. This highlights the importance of considering the time factor in experiments examining responses of clonal plants to heterogeneity.