Allocation, morphology, physiology, architecture: the multiple facets of plant above and belowground responses to resource stress.
Grégoire T. Freschet, Cyrille Violle, Malo Y. Bourget, Michael Scherer-Lorenzen, Florian Fort
Plants respond to resource stress by changing multiple aspects of their biomass allocation, morphology, physiology and architecture. To date, we lack an integrated view of the relative importance of these plastic responses in alleviating resource stress and of the consistency/variability of these responses among species.
We subjected nine species (legumes, forbs and graminoids) to nitrogen and/or light shortages and measured 11 above-ground and below-ground trait adjustments critical in the alleviation of these stresses (plus several underlying traits).
Nine traits out of 11 showed adjustments that improved plants’ potential capacity to acquire the limiting resource at a given time. Above ground, aspects of plasticity in allocation, morphology, physiology and architecture all appeared important in improving light capture, whereas below ground, plasticity in allocation and physiology were most critical to improving nitrogen acquisition. Six traits out of 11 showed substantial heterogeneity in species plasticity, with little structuration of these differences within trait covariation syndromes.
Such comprehensive assessment of the complex nature of phenotypic responses of plants to multiple stress factors, and the comparison of plant responses across multiple species, makes a clear case for the high (but largely overlooked) diversity of potential plastic responses of plants, and for the need to explore the potential rules structuring them.