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David Brown, Biology


Phenotypic plasticity is the ability for a single genotype to produce multiple phenotypes in response to environmental variation. The phenotypic plasticity of a genotype is described by its norm of reaction, and norms of reaction for different genotypes might suggest that each is favored by a different environment. In this experiment, we established a fertility gradient and produced norms of reaction for a variety of measures of plant performance using two strains of Wisconsin Fast Plants (“Astro” and “Dwarf”). The Dwarf variety performed best at low fertility levels, while the Astro variety performed best at high fertility levels. Using these results, we predicted that if Dwarf and Astro varieties were allowed to compete, their relative success would correspond to the differences in their norms of reaction. This prediction seemed to be supported when competition involved one plant of each variety, but when two plants of each variety competed, Astro generally performed best across the fertility gradient. With further improvement, this system can provide an opportunity for students to generate and test predictions regarding phenotypic plasticity in introductory biology laboratories.

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