Development and plasticity of endangered shrub Lindera melissifolia (Lauraceae) seedlings under contrasting light regimes
Lindera melissifolia (Walt.) Blume seedlings were raised in a growth chamber to determine the effects of light availability on shoot growth pattern, and basic leaf and stem growth. Lindera melissifolia seedlings exhibited a sympodial shoot growth pattern for 3 months following emergence from the soil medium, but this pattern was characterized by a reduction in leaf blade area approximately 30 days after emergence, followed by increases in leaf blade area. Seedlings receiving low light were 76% taller than seedlings receiving high light. Seedlings receiving low light also had larger leaf blade dimensions, blade area, seedling leaf area, and greater mass. Seedlings raised in high light had a greater proportional distribution of biomass in the roots, suggesting possible water stress from greater vapor pressure deficits. Furthermore, these seedlings displayed sharp angles of blade inclination and blade folding – acclimation that reduces exposure to light and subsequent higher leaf temperatures in open environments. These differences in morphological response to light resulted in high phenotypic variability in L. melissifolia seedlings. Lindera melissifolia seedling development showed a brief period of phenotypic plasticity, followed by ontogenetic plasticity. The short period of phenotypic plasticity may, however, have profound ecological implications for the conservation and recovery of this federally endangered shrub. Further experimentation should take into account the development of ontogenetic standards for comparisons of plant traits in addition to temporal standards.