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1.  Optimal allocation of resources in response to shading and neighbours in the heteroblastic species, Acacia implexa 
Annals of Botany  2010;107(2):219-228.
Background and Aims
Heteroblasty is an encompassing term referring to ontogenetic changes in the plant shoot. A shaded environment is known to affect the process of heteroblastic development; however, it is not known whether crowded or high density growing conditions can also alter heteroblasty. Compound leaves of the shade-intolerant Acacia implexa allocate less biomass per unit photosynthetic area than transitional leaves or phyllodes and it is hypothesized that this trait will convey an advantage in a crowded environment. Compound leaves also have larger photosynthetic capture area – a trait known to be advantageous in shade. This studied tested the hypothesis that more compound leaves will be developed under shade and crowded environments. Furthermore, this species should undergo optimal allocation of biomass to shoots and roots given shaded and crowded environments.
A full factorial design of irradiance (high and low) and density levels (high, medium and low) on three populations sourced from varying rainfall regions (high, medium and low) was established under controlled glasshouse conditions. Traits measured include the number of nodes expressing a compound leaf, biomass allocation to shoots and roots, and growth traits.
Key Results
A higher number of nodes expressed a compound leaf under low irradiance and in high density treatments; however, there were no significant interactions across treatments. Phenotypes strongly associated with the shade avoidance syndrome were developed under low irradiance; however, this was not observed under high density. There was no significant difference in relative growth rates across light treatments, but growth was significantly slower in a crowded environment.
Heteroblastic development in Acacia can be altered by shade and crowded environments. In this experiment, light was clearly the most limiting factor to growth in a shaded environment; however, in a crowded environment there were additional limiting resources to growth.
PMCID: PMC3025730  PMID: 21135029
Acacia implexa; discriminant function analysis; LMR; LAR; NAR; RMR; SLA; relative growth rate; heteroblastic development; optimal allocation theory; shade avoidance syndrome; density dependence
2.  The adaptive value of functional and life-history traits across fertility treatments in an annual plant 
Annals of Botany  2010;106(6):979-988.
Background and Aims
Plant functional traits are assumed to be adaptive. As selection acts on individuals and not on traits, interpreting the adaptive value of a trait not may be straightforward. For example, productive leaves are associated with fertile environments. However, it is not clear if productive leaves confer an advantage in these habitats, or if they are an advantage as part of a suite of coordinated traits.
Genotypes of Arabidopsis thaliana were grown in high and low nutrient treatments and low, neutral and high pH treatments. Nutrient availability is reduced in acidic or basic soils relative to neutral pH soils. pH treatments were used to alter the availability of resources rather than the amount of resources.
Key Results
Leaf function (specific leaf area, SLA) and life history (size at reproduction, age at reproduction) were variable across genotypes and were plastic. High nutrient availability induced higher SLA and larger size at reproduction. Genotypes that reproduced at large size in high nutrient conditions at neutral pH had the greatest fruit production. SLA was only indirectly related to fruit production through a causal relationship with rosette size; in high nutrient conditions, plants with high SLA were large at reproduction and had higher fruit production. In high nutrient and high pH treatments, plants were large at reproduction, but large size at reproduction was associated with low fecundity. This suggests that large size is adaptive under high nutrient availability.
Interpreting the adaptive value of functional traits will sometimes only be possible when these traits are considered as a suite of correlated and coordinated traits. Leaf functional traits may be important in defining adaptive strategies in A. thaliana but only through how they affect plant life history. Finally, manipulating soil pH can be a valuable tool in assessing adaptive plasticity on nutrient gradients.
PMCID: PMC2990665  PMID: 20880932
Adaptive plasticity; age at reproduction; Arabidopsis thaliana; functional traits; soil pH; rosette growth form; size at reproduction; SLA
3.  Heteroblastic development and the optimal partitioning of traits among contrasting environments in Acacia implexa 
Annals of Botany  2008;103(1):95-105.
Background and Aims
Optimal partitioning theory (OPT) predicts plants will allocate biomass to organs where resources are limiting. Studies of OPT focus on root, stem and leaf mass ratios where roots and stems are often further sub-divided into organs such as fine roots/tap roots or branches/main stem. Leaves, however, are rarely sub-divided into different organs. Heteroblastic species develop juvenile and adult foliage and provide an opportunity of sub-dividing leaf mass ratio into distinct organs. Acacia implexa (Mimosaceae) is a heteroblastic species that develops compound (juvenile), transitional and phyllode (adult) leaves that differ dramatically in form and function. The aims of the present study were to grow A. implexa to examine patterns of plastic development of whole-plant and leaf traits under the OPT framework.
Plants were grown in a glasshouse under contrasting nutrient, light and water environments in a full factorial design. Allocation to whole-plant and leaf-level traits was measured and analysed with multivariate statistics.
Key Results
Whole-plant traits strongly followed patterns predicted by OPT. Leaf-level traits showed a more complex pattern in response to experimental treatments. Compound leaves on low nutrient plants had significantly lower specific leaf area (SLA) and were retained for longer as quantified by a significantly greater compound leaf mass ratio after 120 d. There was no significant difference in SLA of compound leaves in the light treatment, yet transitional SLA was significantly higher under the low light treatment. The timing of heteroblastic shift from compound to transitional leaves was significantly delayed only in the low light treatment. Therefore, plants in the light treatment responded at the whole-plant level by adjusting allocation to productive compound leaves and at the leaf-level by adjusting SLA. There were no significant SLA differences in the water treatment despite strong trends at the whole-plant level.
Explicitly sub-dividing leaves into different types provided greater insights into OPT.
PMCID: PMC2707286  PMID: 18978364
Acacia implexa; heteroblastic development; heterophylly; optimal partitioning theory; plasticity; leaf form and function; nutrients; light; water

Results 1-3 (3)