Functional Plant Biology Functional Plant Biology Society
Plant function and evolutionary biology
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Ecotypic responses of switchgrass to altered precipitation

Jeffrey C. Hartman A C , Jesse B. Nippert A and Clint J. Springer B

A Division of Biology, Kansas State University, 116 Ackert Hall, Manhattan, KS 66506, USA.

B Department of Biology, St. Josephs University, 5600 City Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19131, USA.

C Corresponding author. Email: jhartman@huskers.unl.edu

Functional Plant Biology 39(2) 126-136 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/FP11229
Submitted: 12 October 2011  Accepted: 30 December 2011   Published: 9 February 2012

Abstract

Anthropogenic climate change is projected to alter precipitation patterns, resulting in novel environments for plants. The responses of dominant plant species (e.g. Panicum virgatum L. (switchgrass)) to climate changes can drive broader ecosystem processes such as primary productivity. Using a rainfall mesocosm facility, three ecotypes of P. virgatum (collected from Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, USA) were subjected to three precipitation regimes (average, –25%, +25%) to determine the physiological and growth responses to altered precipitation in a common garden setting. Results showed mean maximum photosynthetic rates, stomatal conductance, transpiration, midday water potential and dark-adapted chlorophyll fluorescence were lowest in the Kansas ecotypes. Increased precipitation treatments raised the mean midday water potentials and lowered water-use efficiency. Aboveground biomass responded positively to changes in precipitation, but flowering initiation was later and rates were lower for Texas ecotypes. In general, ecotype origin was a better predictor of differences in physiological responses and flowering, whereas the precipitation treatments had greater control over biomass production. Depending on the growth variable measured, these results show responses for P. virgatum are under varying ecotypic or environmental control with few interactions, suggesting that future predictions to climate change need not inherently consider localised adaptations in this economically important and widely distributed species.

Additional keywords: aboveground biomass, chlorophyll fluorescence, climate change, ecotype, gas exchange, Panicum virgatum.


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