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Ecology. 2006 Oct;87(10):2591-602.

Individual and combined effects of Ca/Mg ratio and water on trait expression in Mimulus guttatus.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742, USA.


Low Ca/Mg ratios (a defining component of serpentine soils) and low water environmental conditions often co-occur in nature and are thought to exert strong selection pressures on natural populations. However, few studies test the individual and combined effects of these environmental factors. We investigated the effects of low Ca/Mg ratio and low water availability on plant leaf, stem, stolon, and floral traits of Mimulus guttatus, a bodenvag species, i.e., a species that occurs in serpentine and non-serpentine areas. We quantified genetic variation and genetic variation for plasticity for these leaf, stem, stolon, and floral traits at three hierarchical levels: field-habitat type, population, and family, and we evaluated the relative importance of local adaptation and plasticity. We chose two populations and 10 families per population from four distinct field "habitat types" in northern California: high Ca/Mg ratio (non-serpentine) and season-long water availability, high Ca/Mg ratio and seasonally drying, low Ca/Mg ratio (serpentine) and season-long water availability, and low Ca/Mg ratio and seasonally drying. Seedlings were planted into greenhouse treatments that mimicked the four field conditions. We only detected genetic variation for stem diameter and length of longest leaf at the field-habitat level, but we detected genetic variation at the family level for nearly all traits. Soil chemistry and water availability had strong phenotypic effects, alone and in combination. Our hypothesis of an association between responses to low water levels and low Ca/Mg ratio was upheld for length of longest leaf, stem diameter, corolla width, and total number of reproductive units, whereas for other traits, responses to Ca/Mg ratio and low water were clearly independent. Our results suggest that traits may evolve independently from Ca/Mg ratios and water availability and that our focal traits were not simple alternative measures of vigor. We found genetic variation for plasticity both at the field-habitat type and family levels for half of the traits studied. Phenotypic plasticity and genetic variation for plasticity appear to be more important than local adaptation in the success of these M. guttatus populations found across a heterogeneous landscape in northern California. Phenotypic plasticity is an important mechanism maintaining the broad ecological breadth of native populations of M. guttatus.

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