Phenotypic plasticity and precipitation response in sonoran desert winter annuals

Amy L. Angert, Jonathan L. Horst, Travis E. Huxman, D. Lawrence Venable

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Temporal environmental variation has profound influences on population dynamics and community structure. Examination of functional traits that influence resource uptake and allocation can illuminate how co-occurring species translate environmental variation into different demographic outcomes, yet few studies have considered interspecific differences in trait plasticity. We experimentally manipulated soil moisture to test the hypothesis that differences in morphological plasticity contribute to species differences in demographic response to unpredictable precipitation in Sonoran Desert winter annual plants. We compared plasticity of leaf traits and biomass allocation between Pectocarya recurvata (Boraginaceae) and Stylocline micropoides (Asteraceae), co-occurring species that differ in long-term demographic patterns. The species with highly variable population dynamics, Stylo-cline, had striking increases in leaf area and root biomass in response to an experimental increase in soil moisture. In contrast, the species with buffered long-term population dynamics, Pectocarya, did not differ in leaf morphology or biomass allocation between soil moisture treatments. Regardless of water treatment, Pectocarya had earlier reproductive phenology and greater fecundity than Stylocline, suggesting that differences in the timing of the phenological transitions from vegetative to reproductive growth may affect species' responses to precipitation pulses. Combining long-term observations with experimental manipulations provides a window into the functional underpinnings and demographic consequences of trait plasticity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)405-411
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican journal of botany
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2010


  • Asteraceae
  • Biomass allocation
  • Boraginaceae
  • Functional trait
  • Pectocarya recurvata
  • Pulse response
  • Species coexistence
  • Specific leaf area
  • Stylocline micropoides

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Phenotypic plasticity and precipitation response in sonoran desert winter annuals'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this