Publication Details

Category Text Publication
Reference Category Journals
DOI 10.1093/jpe/rtw086
Title (Primary) Heritability of early growth traits and their plasticity in 14 woody species of Chinese subtropical forest
Author Zeng, X.; Durka, W. ORCID logo ; Welk, E.; Fischer, M.
Source Titel Journal of Plant Ecology
Year 2017
Department BZF
Volume 10
Issue 1
Page From 222
Page To 231
Language englisch
Keywords heritability; plant performance; phenotypic plasticity; subtropical forest
UFZ wide themes RU1;


Genetic variation in plant traits represents the raw material for future adaptive evolution. Its extent can be estimated as heritability based on the performance of experimental plants of known relatedness, such as maternal half-sib seed families. While there is considerable heritability information for herbaceous plants and commercially important trees, little is known for woody species of natural subtropical forest. Moreover, it is open whether heritability is higher for species with r- or K-strategies, for more common species with larger distribution ranges than for rarer ones, or for populations closer to the centres of distributional ranges.


For 14 woody species in Chinese subtropical forest, we collected 13–38 maternal seed families, assessed seed size, grew replicates of each seed family in one more and one less benign nursery environment and measured stem diameter and plant height after 7 months.

Important findings

For the different species, plants grew 1.8–8.1 times taller in the more benign environment. For all 14 species, variation between seed families (and thus heritability) was significant (with very few exceptions at the P < 0.001 level) for seed size and for stem diameter and plant height in both nurseries. Moreover, significant seed family by nursery interactions for stem diameter and plant height for all species (P < 0.001) indicated significant heritability for plasticity in these traits. Multiple regression analysis suggests that heritabilities were higher for species with higher age at reproduction and higher wood density (traits indicating a K strategy) but also for species with higher specific leaf area (a trait rather indicating an r strategy). Furthermore, heritabilities were higher for species with larger range sizes, while there was no significant relationship between heritabilities and the distance of the study area to the range margins of our study species.

In conclusion, the detected large heritability estimates suggest considerable potential for the evolution of plant performance and its plasticity for trees of subtropical forest. Moreover, our study shows that the simple method of comparing plants of different maternal seed families is valuable to address evolutionary ecological questions for so far understudied species.

Persistent UFZ Identifier
Zeng, X., Durka, W., Welk, E., Fischer, M. (2017):
Heritability of early growth traits and their plasticity in 14 woody species of Chinese subtropical forest
J. Plant Ecol. 10 (1), 222 - 231 10.1093/jpe/rtw086