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Evolution. 2002 Nov;56(11):2168-77.

Experimental life-history evolution: selection on the allocation to sexual reproduction and its plasticity in a clonal plant.

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  • 1Institut für Umweltwissenschaften, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, CH-8057 Zurich, Switzerland.


Allocation to sexual reproduction is an important life-history trait in clonal plants. Different selection pressures between competitive and competition-free environments are likely to result in the evolution of specialized genotypes and to maintain genetic variation in reproductive allocation. Moreover, selection may also result in the evolution of plastic allocation strategies. The necessary prerequisite for evolution, heritable genetic variation, can best be studied with selection experiments. Starting from a base population of 102 replicated genotypes of the clonal herb Ranunculus reptans, we imposed selection on the proportion of flowering rosettes in the absence of competition (base population: mean = 0.391, broad-sense heritability = 0.307). We also selected on the plasticity in this trait in response to competition with a naturally coexisting grass in a parallel experiment (base population: 14% lower mean in the presence of competition, broad-sense heritability = 0.072). After two generations of bidirectional selection, the proportion of flowering rosettes was 26% higher in the high line than in the low line (realized heritability +/- SE = 0.205 +/- 0.017). Moreover, genotypes of the high line had 11% fewer carpels per flower, a 22% lower proportion of rooted rosettes, and a 39% smaller average distance between rosettes within a clone. In the second experiment, we found no significant responses to selection for high and low plasticity in the proportion of flowering rosettes (realized heritability +/- SE = -0.002 +/- 0.013). Our study indicates a high heritability and potential for further evolution of the proportion of flowering rosettes in R. reptans, but not for its plasticity, which may have been fixed by past evolution at its current level. Moreover, our results demonstrate strong genetic correlations between allocation to sexual reproduction and other clonal life-history characteristics.

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