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How Did the Swiss Cheese Plant Get Its Holes?

Christopher D. Muir
The American Naturalist
Vol. 181, No. 2 (February 2013), pp. 273-281
DOI: 10.1086/668819
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/668819
Page Count: 9
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How Did the Swiss Cheese Plant Get Its Holes?
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Abstract

AbstractAdult leaf fenestration in “Swiss cheese” plants (Monstera Adans.) is an unusual leaf shape trait lacking a convincing evolutionary explanation. Monstera are secondary hemiepiphytes that inhabit the understory of tropical rainforests, where photosynthesis from sunflecks often makes up a large proportion of daily carbon assimilation. Here I present a simple model of leaf-level photosynthesis and whole-plant canopy dynamics in a stochastic light environment. The model demonstrates that leaf fenestration can reduce the variance in plant growth and thereby increase geometric mean fitness. This growth-variance hypothesis also suggests explanations for conspicuous ontogenetic changes in leaf morphology (heteroblasty) in Monstera, as well as the absence of leaf fenestration in co-occurring juvenile tree species. The model provides a testable hypothesis of the adaptive significance of a unique leaf shape and illustrates how variance in growth rate could be an important factor shaping plant morphology and physiology.

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