Rhododendron lapponicum is an ericaceous clonal dwarf shrub in which vegetative growth largely coincides with the formation of flowers and fruits. We used a flower-removal experiment and a descriptive data set to look for relationships and potential trade-offs between vegetative growth, i.e., branching, and fruit production in two contrasting subarctic populations (growing at low and high altitude). The two sites are similar in most respects and differ mainly in that the higher site has lower temperatures and a shorter growing season. We predicted that trade-offs between branching and fruit production would be less marked in a high-altitude population because at lower temperatures reproductive activities could be less resource dependent. At lower altitudes, where temperatures are higher, there would be competition for nutrients between fruiting and branching; hence, a trade-off between these two activities would be more obvious. In both populations about 80% of all new shoot modules were produced by reproductive shoot modules. We found evidence for a [linear] trade-off in the experimental study only, whereas the descriptive data set did not show any consistent indications of trade-offs between branch and fruit production. The high-altitude population showed several characteristics indicating that this population gave priority to vegetative growth over sexual reproduction. The data we present is a typical example of a case where co-variation in size and resource economy among modules masks potential trade-off patterns.
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Vol. 13 • No. 3