The sticky cinquefoil (Potentilla glandulosa) is a small, deciduous plant with bright yellow flowers that lives throughout the American West, and its leaf phenotype can vary depending on environmental conditions. Inland, where there are dramatic seasonal temperature swings and unpredictable droughts, plants shed their large “summer leaves” in autumn when the temperature begins to drop. In the spring new leaves are smaller and develop in a compact rosette. This phenotype persists for several months and is thought to be an adaptation that makes the plants drought-resistant (because less water evaporates from reduced leaf surfaces). By contrast, the leaves of P. glandulosa plants growing in a coastal climate are always large. In their habitat, seasonal temperature swings are not as great and the annual cycle of winter rain and summer drought is highly predictable. Suppose you decide to explore the hypothesis that the coastal population is genetically capable of exhibiting the same seasonal shift in leaf morphology as the inland plants. Would you need access to a greenhouse where you can control variables, or would it be just as easy to do experiments in the wild? Explain your reasoning and outline your experimental design—including the variable or variables you will test in the first experiment.
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