|Title||Drought tolerance in ecotypes of big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) relates to above-ground surface area: Results from a common garden experiment|
|Publication Type||Journal Article|
|Year of Publication||2018|
|Authors||Kramer, DL, Maricle, KL, Hilt, CJ, Martin, NM, Urban, AD, Smart, CM, Baer, SG, Johnson, LC, Maricle, BR|
|Pagination||52 - 60|
Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii Vitman) is a dominant tallgrass species that has a wide range in North America with numerous genetically-distinct ecotypes, each adapted to conditions in their native habitat. In an evolutionary context, it was hypothesized that drought adaptation in A. gerardii would relate to plant surface area, where drought-adapted ecotypes were expected to be short with narrow leaves, thin stems, and few leaves per tiller. In the context of individual plants acclimating to reduced rainfall, rainout shelters were hypothesized to cause morphological reductions in surface area of individual plants. Morphological measurements were taken from four genetically-distinct ecotypes of A. gerardii across a precipitation gradient ranging from 500 to 900 mm rain per year at three common garden sites in Colby, Hays, and Manhattan, Kansas, USA. Evolutionary responses to drier soils in A. gerardii resulted in reduction of evaporative surface area from leaves, as drought-adapted plants had fewer and smaller leaves. The most mesic ecotype of A. gerardii had the highest maximum leaf width, stem diameter, and leaf count across sites. There were few effects of environment on morphology in A. gerardii with reduced rainfall, however, indicating genetics plays a more prominent role than environment to influence morphology. We conclude that increased drought tolerance is related to an evolutionary reduction in evaporative surface area.