Leaves are thought to be the primary carbon source for reproduction in plants, so a positive relationship between vegetative size and reproductive output is expected, establishing a trade-off between time to reproduction and reproductive output. A common response to higher temperatures due to climate changes is the induction of earlier transition into reproduction. Thus, in annual plants, earlier transition into flowering can potentially constrain plant size and reduce seed production. However, trade-offs between early reproduction and fitness are not always observed, suggesting mechanisms to escape the constraints of early flowering do exist. Here, we test whether inflorescence photosynthesis contribution to the reproductive output of Arabidopsis thaliana can offset the cost of early reproduction. We followed the development, growth rate and fitness of 15 accessions, and removed all rosette leaves at flowering (prior to the completion of inflorescence development or any fruit production) in half of the plants to determine the ability of inflorescences to maintain fitness in the absence of leaves. Although leaf removal significantly reduced fruit number, seed weight and plant height, even the most severely impacted accessions maintained 35% of their fitness with the inflorescence as the sole photosynthetic organ; and some accessions experienced no reduction in fitness. Differences between accessions in their ability to maintain fitness after leaf removal is best explained by earlier flowering time and the ability to maintain as many or more branches after leaf removal as in the control treatment. Although earlier flowering does constrain plant vegetative size, we found that inflorescence photosynthesis can significantly contribute to seed production, explaining why early flowering plants can maintain high fitness despite a reduction in vegetative size. Thus, plants can be released from the usually assumed trade-offs associated with earlier reproduction, and selection on inflorescence traits can mediate the impact of climate change on phenology.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)