Phenotypic plasticity masks range- wide genetic differentiation for vegetative but not reproductive traits in a short- lived plant

Jesus Villellas, Johan Ehrlén, Elizabeth E. Crone, Anna Mária Csergő, Maria B. Garcia, Anna Liisa Laine, Deborah A. Roach, Roberto Salguero-Gómez, Glenda M. Wardle, Dylan Z. Childs, Bret D. Elderd, Alain Finn, Sergi Munné-Bosch, Benedicte Bachelot, Judit Bódis, Anna Bucharova, Christina M. Caruso, Jane A. Catford, Matthew Coghill, Aldo CompagnoniRichard P. Duncan, John M. Dwyer, Aryana Ferguson, Lauchlan H. Fraser, Emily Griffoul, Ronny Groenteman, Liv Norunn Hamre, Aveliina Helm, Ruth Kelly, Lauri Laanisto, Michele Lonati, Zuzana Münzbergová, Paloma Nuche, Siri Lie Olsen, Adrian Oprea, Meelis Pärtel, William K. Petry, Satu Ramula, Pil U. Rasmussen, Simone Ravetto Enri, Anna Roeder, Christiane Roscher, Cheryl Schultz, Olav Skarpaas, Annabel L. Smith, Ayco J.M. Tack, Joachim Paul Töpper, Peter A. Vesk, Gregory E. Vose, Elizabeth Wandrag, Astrid Wingler, Yvonne M. Buckley

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Genetic differentiation and phenotypic plasticity jointly shape intraspecific trait variation, but their roles differ among traits. In short-lived plants, reproductive traits may be more genetically determined due to their impact on fitness, whereas vegetative traits may show higher plasticity to buffer short-term perturbations. Combining a multi-treatment greenhouse experiment with observational field data throughout the range of a widespread short-lived herb, Plantago lanceolata, we (1) disentangled genetic and plastic responses of functional traits to a set of environmental drivers and (2) assessed how genetic differentiation and plasticity shape observational trait–environment relationships. Reproductive traits showed distinct genetic differentiation that largely determined observational patterns, but only when correcting traits for differences in biomass. Vegetative traits showed higher plasticity and opposite genetic and plastic responses, masking the genetic component underlying field-observed trait variation. Our study suggests that genetic differentiation may be inferred from observational data only for the traits most closely related to fitness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2378-2393
Number of pages16
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021


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