Adaptive plasticity and fitness costs of endangered, non-endangered and invasive plants in response to variation in nitrogen and phosphorus availabilites

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Global change drivers such as eutrophication and plant invasions will create novel environments for many plant species. Through adaptive trait plasticity plants may maintain their performance under these novel conditions and may outcompete those showing low-adaptive trait plasticity. In a greenhouse study, we determined if plastic-ity in traits is adaptive or maladaptive in endangered, nonendangered, and invasive plant species in response to variation of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) availability (N:P ratios 1.7, 15, and 135) and whether plastic trait responses are adaptive and/or costly for fitness (i.e., biomass). Species choice comprised 17 species from three functional groups (legumes, nonlegume forbs, and grasses), either classified as endangered, nonendangered, or invasive. After 2 months, plants were harvested and nine traits related to carbon assimilation and nutrient uptake were measured (leaf area, SLA, LDMC, SPAD, RMR, root length, SRL, root surface area, and PME activity).
We found more traits responding plastically to variation in P than in N. Plasticity only created costs when P was varied. Plasticity in traits was mostly adaptively neutral toward fitness, with plasticity in three traits being similarly adaptive across all species groups: SPAD (as a measure of chlorophyll content, adaptive to N and P limitation), leaf area, and root surface area (adaptive to P limitation). We found little differences in trait plasticity between endangered, nonendangered, and invasive species.
Synthesis. Along a gradient from N limitation, balanced N:P supply, and P limitation, we found that the type of fluctuating nutrient (i.e., if N or P is varied) is decisive for the adaptive value of a trait. Variation in P availability (from balanced supply to P limitation) created both a stronger reduction in fitness as well as created plasticity costs in more traits than variation in N availability (from balanced supply to N limitation). However, the patterns observed in our study may change if nutrient availability is altered, either by nutrient inputs or by a shift in nutrient availabilities, for example, by decreasing N input as foreseen by European Legislation, but without simultaneously decreasing P input.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere10075
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank Timothy Sierens for their support on organizational matters. This research was funded by the Research Foundation Flanders, Belgium (FWO) (grant no. FWO‐AL996).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Copyright 2023 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


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