Genetic and physiological bases for phenological responses to current and predicted climates

A. M. Wilczek, L. T. Burghardt, A. R. Cobb, M. D. Cooper, S. M. Welch, J. Schmitt

Abstract

We are now reaching the stage at which specific genetic factors with known physiological effects can be tied directly and quantitatively to variation in phenology. With such a mechanistic understanding, scientists can better predict phenological responses to novel seasonal climates. Using the widespread model species Arabidopsis thaliana, we explore how variation in different genetic pathways can be linked to phenology and life-history variation across geographical regions and seasons. We show that the expression of phenological traits including flowering depends critically on the growth season, and we outline an integrated life-history approach to phenology in which the timing of later life-history events can be contingent on the environmental cues regulating earlier life stages. As flowering time in many plants is determined by the integration of multiple environmentally sensitive gene pathways, the novel combinations of important seasonal cues in projected future climates will alter how phenology responds to variation in the flowering time gene network with important consequences for plant life history. We discuss how phenology models in other systems—both natural and agricultural—could employ a similar framework to explore the potential contribution of genetic variation to the physiological integration of cues determining phenology.

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