|Physiological ecology of the clonal corallimorpharian Corynactis californica|In: Marine Biology. Springer: Heidelberg; Berlin. ISSN 0025-3162, more
For clonal taxa, the reduced genetic variability associated with clonal proliferation is hypothesized to reduce the ability to respond to variable conditions, unless a general-purpose genotype (GPG) confers success in multiple environments. In this study, Corynactis californica (Carlgren 1936) from the subtidal of California was used as a model system to test the hypothesis that clones dampen fluctuations in fitness through a GPG that facilitates phenotypic plasticity. To achieve this goal, tissue composition, respiration, excretion, and growth were compared among clones of C. californica at one site, and a reciprocal transplant experiment was used to test the response of clones to differing conditions at two sites. All experiments were completed at Santa Catalina Island (N 33°25', W 118°30') between April and September 1991. Clones at a single site differed significantly in multiple traits, varying as much as 1.6-fold in protein content, 3.4-fold in respiration, and 3.5-fold in excretion. Interestingly, while tissue growth was the most labile trait (differing up to 35.4-fold among clones), polyp fission rates were not significantly different among clones, in part because fission continued even though tissue growth was unable to restore polyp size in between divisions. Partial energy budgets revealed that the majority (47–90%) of the daily energy expenditure was accounted for by respiration, 13–47% by growth, and 0.3–14% by excretion. In the transplant experiment, reaction norms revealed strong effects of the environment on some traits but not others, notably with growth differing between sites in a pattern that differed among clones, and excretion differing between sites; neither respiration nor fission were affected by transplantation. Partial energy budgets revealed that the energy allocation to respiration varied between sites in a pattern that differed among clones, and a similar trend was evident for tissue growth. Together, these results demonstrate that clones of C. californica have markedly different phenotypes and exploit phenotypic plasticity to maintain relatively constant fission rates, even though tissue growth varies greatly among clones and between environments. While these findings support the GPG hypothesis for clones of C. californica—at least based on relative fitness achieved through asexual proliferation—this conclusion depends on the extent to which polyps are successful when they have low rates of tissue growth.