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Deciphering the developmental plasticity of walnut saplings in relation to climatic factors and light environment

Taugourdeau O., Chaubert-Pereira F., Sabatier S.A., Guédon Y.. 2011. Journal of Experimental Botany, 62 (15) : p. 5283-5296.

DOI: 10.1093/jxb/err115

Developmental plasticity, the acclimation of plants to their local environment, is known to be crucial for the fitness of perennial organisms such as trees. However, deciphering the many possible developmental and environmental influences involved in such plasticity in natural conditions requires dedicated statistical models integrating developmental phases, environmental factors, and interindividual heterogeneity. These models should be able to analyse retrospective data (number of leaves or length of annual shoots along the main stem in the present case). In this study Markov switching linear mixed models were applied to the analysis of the developmental plasticity of walnut saplings during the establishment phase in a mixed Mediterranean forest. In the Markov switching linear mixed models estimated from walnut data sets, the underlying Markov chain represents both the succession and lengths of growth phases, while the linear mixed models represent both the influence of climatic factors and interindividual heterogeneity within each growth phase. On the basis of these integrative statistical models, it is shown that walnut saplings have an opportunistic mode of development that is primarily driven by the changing light environment. In particular, light availability explains the ability of a tree to reach a phase of strong growth where the first branches can appear. It is also shown that growth fluctuation amplitudes in response to climatic factors increased while interindividual heterogeneity decreased during tree development.

Mots-clés : modèle mathématique; juglans regia; forêt mélangée sempervirente; développement biologique; facteur climatique; facteur du milieu; languedoc-roussillon; france

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