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Evolvability of between-year seed dormancy in populations along an aridity gradient

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Under global climate change, adaptation to new conditions is crucial for plant species persistence. This requires the ability to evolve in traits that are correlated with changing climatic variables. We studied between-year seed dormancy, which correlates with environmental variability, and tested for clinal trends in its evolvability along an aridity gradient in Israel. We conducted a germination experiment under five irrigation levels with two dryland winter annuals (Biscutella didyma, Bromus fasciculatus) from four sites along the gradient. Species differed in means and evolvability of dormancy. Biscutella had high dormancy, which significantly increased with aridity but decreased with higher irrigation. In Bromus, dormancy was low, similar among populations, and only marginally affected by irrigation. Evolvability in Biscutella was high and varied among populations, without a clinal trend along the gradient. Conversely, in Bromus, trait evolvability was low and declined with increasing aridity. We argue that changes in evolvability along climatic gradients depend on the relative intensity of stabilizing selection. This may be high in Bromus and not only depends on environmental stress, but also on variability. Our findings point to the importance of measuring evolvability of climate-related traits across different natural and artificial environments and for many coexisting species. © 2010 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2010, 100, 924–934.
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Keywords: annual plants; bet-hedging; climate change; heritability; risk spreading

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2010-08-01

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