29 June 2020
Intraspecific variation in plant defences is expected to be the result of adaptive and plastic responses to environmental conditions, where trade-offs between growth and defences are thought to play a key role shaping phenotypic patterns in defensive investment. Axial resin ducts are costly defensive structures that remain imprinted in the tree rings of conifers, therefore being a valuable proxy of defensive investment along the trees’ lifespan. We aimed to disentangle climate-driven adaptive clines and plastic responses to both spatial and temporal environmental variation in resin duct production, and to explore growth-defence trade-offs. To that aim, we applied dendrochronological procedures to quantify annual growth and resin duct production during a 31-year-period in a Mediterranean pine species, including trees from nine populations planted in two common gardens. Both genetic factors and plastic responses modulated annual resin duct production. However, we found no evidence of adaptive clines with climate gradients driving population differentiation. Our results revealed a marked physiological trade-off between growth and defences, where the slope of the trade-off was genetically variable and associated with climatic gradients. Our results help to enlighten the evolutionary patterns and genetic basis of defensive allocation within species, particularly revealing a key role of growth-defence trade-offs.