Paternal intergenerational plasticity in the plant species Paeonia ostii: Implications for parental fitness and offspring performance

Keliang Zhang, Yusong Ji, Linjun Yao, Huina Liu, Yin Zhang, Jerry M. Baskin, Carol C. Baskin, Lei Zhang, Chaohan Xu, Jun Tao, Andreas Prinzing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While there is long-standing interest in the role of inter- and transgenerational plasticity via the maternal line, it rarely has been studied via the paternal line. Thus, consequences of the paternal environment for parental fitness and for performance of offspring in the environments experienced by either fathers or mothers are not known. We studied the intergenerational plasticity (IGP) of the plant species Paeonia ostii (Paeoniaceae) and tested the hypothesis that exposure of fathers to environmental stress (i) reduces parental fitness and performance of offspring grown under non-stressful conditions, but (ii) mitigates the negative effects of environmental stress on fitness of parents and performance of offspring. Crosses were made in a greenhouse within six families of P. ostii between parents grown under drought and in a mesic environment, and the offspring of each cross were grown under both dry and mesic conditions. Production and germination of seeds and morphological and physiological traits of offspring were measured as indicators of parental fitness and offspring performance, respectively. Paternal drought decreased seed number per fruit, except when maternal plants also were grown in drought conditions. Offspring drought decreased seedling performance. However, when fathers experienced drought this negative effect on the offspring was partly mitigated, in particular when mothers also had experienced drought. In contrast, offspring grown in mesic conditions had improved seedling performance, especially when either parent (or both) also were grown in mesic conditions. Such statistical differences remained when seed mass was included as a covariate. Overall, paternal pollen of P. ostii mediated IGP to drought almost as well as it did for maternal ovules. IGP was adaptive if environments remained constantly dry across generations but maladaptive if environments changed. Hence, under future climate changes, paternal IGP might be both a blessing and a curse, with the blessing occurring when the focal habitat becomes drier and pollen comes from already-dry places, while the curse may dominate in predictably moist habitats surrounded by drier habitats. Read the free Plain Language Summary for this article on the Journal blog.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)832-847
Number of pages16
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Authors. Functional Ecology © 2024 British Ecological Society.


  • drought stress
  • inter- and transgenerational plasticity
  • maternal effect
  • offspring fitness
  • Paeonia ostii
  • paternal effect

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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