Reaction Norms of Arabidopsis. IV. Relationships between plasticity and fitness

Massimo Pigliucci* and Carl D. Schlichting

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Connecticut, Storrs CT 06269

*Author for correspondence.
Current address: Department of Botany, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996-1100.



The study of the association between fitness and reaction norms is of primary importance given the hypothesized role for phenotypic plasticity in shaping evolutionary patterns: in microevolution, as one mechanism for maintaining genetic variation, and in macroevolution, as a means of generating phenotypic novelties. In a glasshouse experiment, we investigated variation in reaction norms to nutrient availability in populations of Arabidopsis thaliana, and the relationship between this variation and reproductive fitness. We found evidence for across-treatment directional selection on the means for leaf number, flowering time, plant height, branching, and growth rate; across-treatment stabilizing selection was detected for growth rate; and across-treatment disruptive selection was significant for leaf number. We also uncovered selection on the plasticity of some traits: directional for the plasticity of branching, and stabilizing for the plasticity of both branching and growth rate. When the two environments were considered separately, directional selection for height was detected under low nutrients; under high nutrients, we found evidence for directional selection on leaf number and height, and for disruptive selection on flowering time. The genetic correlation between a trait's expression in one environment and its expression in the alternate environment was positive and highly significant only for flowering time and growth rate. A principal components analysis revealed possible constraints on future selection responses, due to correlations among character means and among character plasticities.