The present study reveals significant genetically determined differences in a range of growth and ecophysiological traits between different Phragmites australis genotypes, and provides evidence that the differences are neither related to ploidy level per se nor to the phylogeographic relationships of the genotypes.
Background and aims
Phragmites australis is a wetland grass with high genetic variability, augmented by its cosmopolitan distribution, clonal growth form and large variation in chromosome numbers. Different ploidy levels and ecotypes differ in morphology and ecophysiological traits, and may possess different levels of phenotypic variation. The aim of this study was to quantify the natural variation in ecophysiological characteristics of P. australis, and to explore whether differences in ecophysiological traits can be related to ploidy levels or to the geographic origin of the clones.
Fifteen clones of P. australis from Europe and Asia/Australia, representing five ploidy levels (4x, 6x, 8x, 10x and 12x), were grown in a common garden design for 119 days. Plant growth and light-saturated rate of photosynthesis (Pmax), stomatal conductance (gs), water use efficiency (WUE) and concentrations of photosynthetic pigments and mineral ions in the leaves were measured.
The growth of the plants and most ecophysiological parameters differed significantly between clones. The mean maximum shoot height varied from 0.9 to 1.86 m, Pmax from 9.7 to 27 µmol m−2 s−1, gs from 0.22 to 1.41 mol m−2 s−1 and WUE from 13 to 47 µmol mol−1. The concentrations of chlorophylls did not vary significantly between clones, but the chlorophyll a/b ratio and the concentrations of total carotenoids did. The observed differences were not explained either by the ploidy level per se or by the geographic origin or phylogenetic relationships of the clones.
Phylogeographic relationships in P. australis on a global scale do not mirror the environment where the adaptations have evolved, and high phenotypic variation among and within clones complicates comparative studies. Future studies aimed at explaining differences in plant behaviour between P. australis populations should be careful in the selection of target genotypes and/or populations, and should avoid generalizing their findings beyond the genotypes and/or populations studied.