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High soil salinity negatively influences plant growth and yield. Some taxa have evolved mechanisms for avoiding or tolerating elevated soil salinity, which can be modulated by the environment experienced by parents or offspring. We tested the contribution of the parental and offspring environments on salinity adaptation and their potential underlying mechanisms. In a two-generation greenhouse experiment, we factorially manipulated salinity concentrations for genotypes of Medicago truncatula that were originally collected from natural populations that differed in soil salinity. To compare population level adaptation to soil salinity and to test the potential mechanisms involved we measured two aspects of plant performance, reproduction and vegetative biomass, and phenological and physiological traits associated with salinity avoidance and tolerance. Saline-origin populations had greater biomass and reproduction under saline conditions than non-saline populations, consistent with local adaptation to saline soils. Additionally, parental environmental exposure to salt increased this difference in performance. In terms of environmental effects on mechanisms of salinity adaptation, parental exposure to salt spurred phenological differences that facilitated salt avoidance, while offspring exposure to salt resulted in traits associated with greater salt tolerance. Non-saline origin populations expressed traits associated with greater growth in the absence of salt while, for saline adapted populations, the ability to maintain greater performance in saline environments was also associated with lower growth potential in the absence of salt. Plastic responses induced by parental and offspring environments in phenology, leaf traits, and gas exchange contribute to salinity adaptation in M. truncatula. The ability of plants to tolerate environmental stress, such as high soil salinity, is likely modulated by a combination of parental effects and within-generation phenotypic plasticity, which are likely to vary in populations from contrasting environments.


© 2016 Moriuchi et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0150350

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