Optimizing reproductive phenology in a two-resource world: a dynamic allocation model of plant growth predicts later reproduction in phosphorus-limited plants


Nord, E.A.; Shea, K.; Lynch, J.P.


Annals of Botany (2011) 108(2): 391-404.

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Background and Aims Timing of reproduction is a key life-history trait that is regulated by resource availability. Delayed reproduction in soils with low phosphorus availability is common among annuals, in contrast to the accelerated reproduction typical of other low-nutrient environments. It is hypothesized that this anomalous response arises from the high marginal value of additional allocation to root growth caused by the low mobility of phosphorus in soils. Methods To better understand the benefits and costs of such delayed reproduction, a two-resource dynamic allocation model of plant growth and reproduction is presented. The model incorporates growth, respiration, and carbon and phosphorus acquisition of both root and shoot tissue, and considers the reallocation of resources from senescent leaves. The model is parameterized with data from Arabidopsis and the optimal reproductive phenology is explored in a range of environments. Key Results The model predicts delayed reproduction in low-phosphorus environments. Reproductive timing in low-phosphorus environments is quite sensitive to phosphorus mobility, but is less sensitive to the temporal distribution of mortality risks. In low-phosphorus environments, the relative metabolic cost of roots was greater, and reproductive allocation reduced, compared with high-phosphorus conditions. The model suggests that delayed reproduction in response to low phosphorus availability may be reduced in plants adapted to environments where phosphorus mobility is greater. Conclusions Delayed reproduction in low-phosphorus soils can be a beneficial response allowing for increased acquisition and utilization of phosphorus. This finding has implications both for efforts to breed crops for low-phosphorus soils, and for efforts to understand how climate change may impact plant growth and productivity in low-phosphorus environments.