The spatial scale of adaptive population differentiation in a wide-spread, well-dispersed plant species

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Adaptation to the specific conditions at different sites may contribute strongly to the wide distribution of a plant species. However, little is known about the scale at which such adaptation occurs in common species. We studied population differentiation, plasticity and local adaptation of the short-lived perennial Hypochoeris radicata, a widespread and common plant whose seeds are well-dispersed. We reciprocally transplanted seedlings among several populations of different size within and among three European regions (in the northwest Czech Republic, central Germany and the central Netherlands) and studied several fitness-related traits over two growing seasons. The region in which the reciprocal transplant experiment was carried out had no influence on the performance of seedlings, indicating that there were no differences in overall habitat quality. In contrast, the site within region, and the plot within site strongly influenced mean plant performance. Plants from different populations of origin differed in their performance, indicating genetic variation among populations, but performance strongly depended on the specific combination of population of origin and transplant site. Plants that grew at their home site produced on average almost twice the number of seeds per transplant (a multiplicative fitness measure) than foreign plants originating from other sites. Survival, rosette size and multiplicative fitness all decreased with increasing distance from the home site to the transplant site. The size of the population of origin did not influence overall plant performance or the strength of local adaptation. In conclusion, our results indicate that the common and widespread H. radicata consists of locally adapted genotypes within its European range at a relatively small scale. Thus a large potential for gene flow by seeds and a high density of populations do not appear to be sufficient to prevent population differentiation by selection.

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