Background: To maximize photosynthetic efficiency, plants have evolved a capacity by which leaf area scales allometrically with leaf mass through interactions with the environment. However, our understanding of genetic control of this allometric relationship remains limited. Results: We integrated allometric scaling laws expressed at static and ontogenetic levels into genetic mapping to identify the quantitative trait loci (QTLs) that mediate how leaf area scales with leaf mass and how such leaf allometry, under the control of these QTLs, varies as a response to environment change. A major QTL detected by the static model constantly affects the allometric growth of leaf area vs. leaf mass for the common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) in two different environments. The ontogenetic model identified this QTL plus a few other QTLs that determine developmental trajectories of leaf allometry, whose expression is contingent heavily upon the environment. Conclusions: Our results gain new insight into the genetic mechanisms of how plants program their leaf morphogenesis to adapt to environmental perturbations.
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