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Plant genome size influences the functional relationships between cellular and whole‐plant physiology, but we know little about its importance to plant tolerance of environmental stressors and how it contributes to range limits and invasion success. We used native and invasive lineages of a wetland plant to provide the first experimental test of the Large Genome Constraint Hypothesis (LGCH)—that plants with large genomes are less tolerant of environmental stress and less plastic under stress gradients than plants with small genomes. We predicted that populations with larger genomes would have a lower tolerance and less plasticity to a stress gradient than populations with smaller genomes. In replicated experiments in northern and southern climates in the United States, we subjected plants from 35 populations varying in genome size and lineage to two salinity treatments. We measured traits associated with growth, physiology, nutrition, defense, and plasticity. Using AICc model selection, we found all plant traits, except stomatal conductance, were influenced by environmental stressors and genome size. Increasing salinity was stressful to plants and affected most plant traits. Notably, biomass in the high‐salinity treatment was 3.0 and 4.9 times lower for the invasive and native lineages, respectively. Plants in the warmer southern greenhouse had higher biomass, stomate density, stomatal conductance, leaf toughness, and lower aboveground percentage of N and total phenolics than in the northern greenhouse. Moreover, responses to the salinity gradient were generally much stronger in the southern than northern greenhouse. Aboveground biomass increased significantly with genome size for the invasive lineage (43% across genome sizes) but not for the native. For 8 of 20 lineage trait comparisons, greenhouse location × genome size interaction was also significant. Interestingly, the slope of the relationship between genome size and trait means was in the opposite direction for some traits between the gardens providing mixed support for LGCH. Finally, for 30% of the comparisons, plasticity was significantly related to genome size—for some plant traits, the relationship was positive, and in others, it was negative. Overall, we found mixed support for LGCH and for the first time found that genome size is associated with plasticity, a trait widely regarded as important to invasion success.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.