In clonal plants, evolution of plastic foraging by increased lengths of leaves and internodes under unfavourable conditions may be constrained by costs and limits of plasticity. We studied costs and limits of plasticity in foraging characteristics in 102 genotypes of the stoloniferous herb Ranunculus reptans. We grew three replicates of each genotype with and three without competition by the naturally co-occuring grass Agrostis stolonifera. We used regression and correlation analyses to investigate potential costs of plasticity in lengths of leaves and stolon internodes, developmental instability costs of these traits, and a developmental range limit of these traits. We used randomization procedures to control for spurious correlations between parameters calculated from the same data. Under competition the number of rosettes, rooted rosettes, and flowers was 58%, 40%, and 61% lower, respectively, than in the absence of competition. Under competition lengths of leaves and stolon internodes were 14% and 6% smaller, respectively, than in the absence of competition. We detected significant costs of plasticity in stolon internode length in the presence of competition when fitness was measured in terms of the number of rosettes and the number of flowers (selection gradients against plasticity were 0.250 and 0.214, respectively). Within-environment variation (SD) in both foraging traits was not positively correlated with the corresponding plasticity, which indicates that there were no developmental instability costs. More plastic genotypes did not have less extreme trait values than less plastic genotypes for both foraging traits, which indicates that there was no developmental range limit. We conclude that in R. reptans costs of plasticity more strongly constrain evolution of foraging in the horizontal plane (i.e., stolon internode length) than in the vertical plane (i.e., leaf length).
Editor: C. Boggs