Plastic stem-elongation responses to the ratio of red:far-red (R:FR) wavelengths enable plants to match their phenotype to local competitive conditions. However, elongation responses early in the life history may occur at the cost of reduced plasticity later in the life history, because elongation influences both allocation patterns and structural integrity. A common-garden experiment was performed to test whether seedling responses to R:FR affect biomass allocation, biomass accumulation, and subsequent plasticity to the cue. Seedlings of Abutilon theophrasti were stimulated to elongate by low R:FR treatments, and subsequent growth and plasticity was compared with nonelongated individuals. Elongated seedlings were less responsive than nonelongated ones to a second bout of low R:FR. Thus, seedling plasticity to R:FR reduces subsequent responsiveness to this cue. This negative association across life-history stages suggests an important constraint on the evolution of plastic stem responses, because selection in A. theophrasti has previously been shown to favor increases in early elongation in combination with increased later elongation. The reduced responsiveness of elongated seedlings to R:FR appeared to result from a structural feedback mechanism, indicating that the opportunity cost of early responses may be lower in environments providing structural support.
Corresponding Editor: D. Waller