Phenotypic Responses, Reproduction Mode and Epigenetic Patterns under Temperature Treatments in the Alpine Plant Species Ranunculus kuepferi (Ranunculaceae)
Plant life in alpine habitats is shaped by harsh abiotic conditions and cold climates. Phenotypic variation of morphological characters and reproduction can be influenced by temperature stress. Nevertheless, little is known about the performance of different cytotypes under cold stress and how epigenetic patterns could relate to phenotypic variation. Ranunculus kuepferi, a perennial alpine plant, served as a model system for testing the effect of cold stress on phenotypic plasticity,
... sticity, reproduction mode, and epigenetic variation. Diploid and autotetraploid individuals were placed in climate growth cabinets under warm and cold conditions. Morphological traits (height, leaves and flowers) and the proportion of well-developed seeds were measured as fitness indicators, while flow cytometric seed screening (FCSS) was utilized to determine the reproduction mode. Subsequently, comparisons with patterns of methylation-sensitive amplified fragment-length polymorphisms (AFLPs) were conducted. Diploids grew better under warm conditions, while tetraploids performed better in cold treatments. Epigenetic patterns were correlated with the expressed morphological traits. Cold stress reduced the reproduction fitness but did not induce apomixis in diploids. Overall, our study underlines the potential of phenotypic plasticity for acclimation under environmental conditions and confirms the different niche preferences of cytotypes in natural populations. Results help to understand the pattern of geographical parthenogenesis in the species.