Phenotypic response of Lycopersicon chilense to water deficit
ABSTRACT Environmental-induced phenotypic variation in plants is often considered to be a functional response that maximizes fitness in heterogeneous environments. Lycopersicon chilense, a tomato species endemic to Atacama Desert, shows altitudinal phenotypics variations in their natural environments, which could be due to different soil water availabilities. It is hypothesized that (a) seeds coming from populations of different environments, cultivated in the same environment, will have similar phenotypes, if populations are not genetically differentiated, and that (b) the different populations subjected to two drought levels should vary their phenotypic constitution with respect to the control groups. The responses of twenty phenotypic traits to different irrigation levels were studied in nine wild populations of Lycopersicon chilense. Seeds were collected from populations along an altitudinal gradient (from 20 m to 3,075 m), transferred to a common environment and grown under three soil water conditions: low (80 % FC), moderate (40 % FC) and severe (20 % FC). In spite of the climatic differences in their natural habitat the phenotypic responses of plants growing in the same environment was similar in the nine populations. Significant differences among populations were only observed in three out of twenty traits (fruit fresh weight, fruit volume and number of seeds per fruit). Soil water deficit induced a phenotypic response in twelve characters; among these: root dry weight, cover, number of seeting fruits and number of seeds per fruit showed the highest significance. An interaction between population and drought treatment was found only for fresh weight of fruits, fruit volume and number of seeds per fruit. Our data indicate that the phenotypic response does not differ among populations growing under similar environmental conditions. Probably the phenotypic response of L. chilense in their natural habitats is related to physiological and metabolic adjustment rather than genetic variation.