Global trends in phenotypic plasticity of plants

Gisela C. Stotz, Cristian Salgado-Luarte, Víctor M. Escobedo, Fernando Valladares, Ernesto Gianoli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Citations (Scopus)


Predicting plastic responses is crucial to assess plant species potential to adapt to climate change, but little is known about which factors drive the biogeographical patterns of phenotypic plasticity in plants. Theory predicts that climatic variability would select for increased phenotypic plasticity, whereas evidence indicates that stressful conditions can limit phenotypic plasticity. Using a meta-analytic, phylogeny-corrected approach to global data on plant phenotypic plasticity, we tested whether latitude, climate, climatic variability and/or stressful conditions are predictors of plastic responses at a biogeographical scale. We found support for a positive association between phenotypic plasticity and climatic variability only for plasticity in allocation. Plasticity in leaf morphology, size and physiology were positively associated with mean annual temperature. We also found evidence that phenotypic plasticity in physiology is limited by cold stress. Overall, plant plastic responses to non-climatic factors were stronger than responses to climatic factors. However, while climatic conditions were associated with plant plastic responses to climatic factors, they generally did not relate to plastic responses to other abiotic or biotic factors. Our study highlights the need to consider those factors that favour and limit phenotypic plasticity in order to improve predictive frameworks addressing plant species’ potential to adapt to climate change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2267-2281
Number of pages15
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


  • climate change
  • climatic variability
  • latitude
  • meta-analysis
  • phenotypic plasticity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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