Phenotypic integration and life history strategies among populations of Pinus halepensis: an insight through structural equation modelling
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Background and Aims: Understanding inter-population variation in the allocation of resources to specific anatomical compartments and physiological processes is crucial to disentangle adaptive patterns in forest species. This work aims to evaluate phenotypic integration and trade-offs among functional
traits as determinants of life history strategies in populations of a circum-Mediterranean pine that dwells in environments where water and other resources are in limited supply. Methods: Adult individuals of 51 populations of Pinus halepensis grown in a common garden were characterized for 11 phenotypic traits, including direct and indirect measures of water uptake at different depths, leaf area, stomatal conductance, chlorophyll content, non-structural carbohydrates, stem diameter and tree height, age at first reproduction and cone production. The population differentiation in these traits was tested through analysis of variance (ANOVA). The resulting populations' means were carried forward to a structural equation model evaluating phenotypic integration between six latent variables (summer water uptake depth, summer transpiration, spring photosynthetic capacity, growth, reserve accumulation and reproduction). Key Results: Water uptake depth and transpiration covaried negatively among populations, as the likely result of a common selective pressure for drought resistance, while spring photosynthetic capacity was lower in populations originating from dry areas. Transpiration positively influenced growth, while growth was negatively related to reproduction and reserves among populations. Water uptake depth negatively influenced reproduction. Conclusions: The observed patterns indicate a differentiation in life cycle features between fast-growing and slow-growing populations, with the latter investing significantly more in reproduction and reserves. We speculate that such contrasting strategies result from different arrays of life history traits underlying the very different ecological conditions that the Aleppo pine must face across its distribution range. These comprise, principally, drought as the main stressor and fire as the main ecological disturbance of the Mediterranean basin.