PREMISE OF THE STUDYThe timing of major phenological transitions is critical to lifetime fitness, and life history theory predicts differences for annual and perennial plants. To correctly time these transitions, many plants rely on environmental cues such as exposure to extended periods of cold, which may occur at different stages throughout their lifetime.
METHODSWe studied the role of cold at different life stages, by jointly exposing seed (stratification) and rosettes (vernalization) to cold. We used 23 populations of Mimulus guttatus, which vary from annuals to perennials, and investigated how cold at one or both stages affected germination, flowering, growth, and biomass.
KEY RESULTSWe found that stratification and vernalization interact to affect life cycle transitions, and that cold at either stage could synchronize flowering phenology. For perennials, either stratification or vernalization is necessary for maximum flowering. We also found that germination timing covaried with later traits. Moreover, plants from environments with dissimilar climates displayed different phenological responses to stratification or vernalization.
CONCLUSIONSIn general, cold is more important for seed germination in annuals and plants from environments with warm temperatures and variable precipitation. In contrast, cold is more important for flowering in perennials: it accelerates flowering in plants from lower precipitation environments, and it increases flowering proportion in plants from cooler, more stable precipitation environments. We discuss our findings in the context of the variable environments plants experience within a population and the variation encountered across the biogeographic native range of the species.