Leaf economics and slow-fast adaptation across the geographic range of Arabidopsis thaliana

Scientific reports 2019

Kevin Sartori, François Vasseur, Cyrille Violle, Etienne Baron, Marianne Gerard, Nick Rowe, Oscar Ayala-Garay, Ananda Christophe, Laura Garcia de Jalón, Diane Masclef, Erwan Harscouet, Maria del Rey Granado, Agathe Chassagneux, Elena Kazakou, Denis Vile

Life history strategies of most organisms are constrained by resource allocation patterns that follow a ‘slow-fast continuum’. It opposes slow growing and long-lived organisms with late investment in reproduction to those that grow faster, have earlier and larger reproductive effort and a short longevity. In plants, the Leaf Economics Spectrum (LES) depicts a leaf-level trade-off between the rate of carbon assimilation and leaf lifespan, as stressed in functional ecology from interspecific comparative studies. However, it is still unclear how the LES is connected to the slow-fast syndrome. Interspecific comparisons also impede a deep exploration of the linkage between LES variation and adaptation to climate. Here, we measured growth, morpho-physiological and life-history traits, at both the leaf and whole-plant levels, in 378 natural accessions of Arabidopsis thaliana. We found that the LES is tightly linked to variation in whole-plant functioning, and aligns with the slow-fast continuum. A genetic analysis further suggested that phenotypic differentiation results from the selection of different slow-fast strategies in contrasted climates. Slow growing and long-lived plants were preferentially found in cold and arid habitats while fast growing and short-lived ones in more favorable habitats. Our findings shed light on the role of the slow-fast continuum for plant adaptation to climate. More broadly, they encourage future studies to bridge functional ecology, genetics and evolutionary biology to improve our understanding of plant adaptation to environmental changes.

Slow strategy is favored in Mediterranean and Scandinavian regions while fast strategy is selected in the center of A. thaliana distribution. Map representing the prediction of slow-fast strategies based on climatic data: darker regions endure combination of climatic variables associated with slower strategies as opposed to faster strategies in lighter regions.

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