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Evolution. 2006 Apr;60(4):696-710.

Local adaptation, patterns of selection, and gene flow in the Californian serpentine sunflower (Helianthus exilis).

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  • 1Department of Botany, University of British Columbia, 3529-6270 University Boulevard, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z4.


The traditional view of the species as the fundamental unit of evolution has been challenged by observations that in heterogeneous environments, gene flow may be too restricted to overcome the effects of local selection. Whether a species evolves as a cohesive unit depends critically on the dynamic balance between homogenizing gene flow among populations and potentially disruptive local adaptation. To examine this evolutionary balance between "global" gene flow and local selection, we studied northern Californian populations of Helianthus exilis, the serpentine sunflower, within a mosaic of contrasting serpentine and nonserpentine areas that differ considerably in soil chemistry and water availability. Local adaptation to riparian and serpentine habitats was studied in Helianthus exilis along with an analysis of gene flow patterns among populations within these habitats. Local adaptation was assessed in H. exilis during 2002 and 2003 using reciprocal transplant experiments at multiple locations within serpentine and riparian habitats. Effects of competition and germination date on the expression of local adaptation were also examined within the reciprocal transplant experiments. Local adaptation was detected in both years at the local site level and at the level of habitat. The analysis of the transplanted populations indicated that the patterns of selection differed considerably between riparian and serpentine sites. Differential survivorship occurred in serpentine habitats, whereas selection on reproductive output predominated in riparian habitats. Local adaptation was expressed only in the absence of competition. Local adaptation in terms of survivorship was most strongly expressed in treatments with delayed seed germination. Microsatellite markers were used to quantify population genetic parameters and examine the patterns of gene flow among sampled populations. Analysis of molecular markers revealed a system of population patches that freely exchange genes with each other. Strong selection seems to maintain ecotypic variation within this endemic sunflower species, while extensive gene flow among populations prevents local speciation between serpentine and riparian ecotypes.

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