Background/Question/Methods Negative correlations in plant resource allocation patterns often reflect trait tradeoffs that have been shaped by selection to optimize fitness. A recent ecological emphasis has been associated with the world-wide economic trait spectrum, which applies an economic approach to the reconciliation of fitness costs and benefits. Researchers in molecular biology have developed ‘big data’ resources including multi-omic studies that describe cellular controls over differential trait expression. In this presentation, I will discuss recent discoveries in multi-omics biology and their relation to ecological theory as opportunities to understand the role of natural selection in affecting coordination among resource allocation tradeoffs. Although much of our insight into the molecular processes that control patterns of trait expression is derived from studies on model herbaceous species, there are also several examples of studies on tree species. I will focus on the latter types of studies for this presentation.
Results/Conclusions Cellular-scale control over coordinated resource allocation occurs through phytohormone crosstalk and transcriptional signal cascades and provides mechanistic justification for much of the optimality theory used in ecological studies. One perspective emerging from multi-omic studies is the use by plants of sustained stored resource pools to buffer the impacts of future biotic and abiotic stresses. Other studies have shown that the insertion or quieting of specific genes to create novel phenotypes, causes the remodeling of cellular control systems and induces shifts in resource allocation pathways. The cellular studies conducted to date have revealed much about the mechanistic relations of allocation pathways, and these lessons can be used to improve productivity and yield in new crop and forest plant varieties. In the context of ecology, the challenge going forward will be to further understand the relevance of loss- and gain-of-function transformation experiments to past natural selection regimes and their role in influencing the trait covariances affecting plant growth, defense and stress tolerance.