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Am Nat. 2005 May;165(5):537-50. Epub 2005 Mar 14.

Genetic basis and consequences of niche construction: plasticity-induced genetic constraints on the evolution of seed dispersal in Arabidopsis thaliana.

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Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.


Because seed dispersal influences the environment experienced by seeds, that environment can change as dispersal evolves. The evolutionary potential of dispersal can in turn change as dispersal evolves, if its expression of genetic variation depends on the postdispersal environment. We examined whether seed dispersion patterns have a detectable genetic basis (and therefore evolutionary potential) and determined whether that genetic basis changed depending on one postdispersal environmental factor: conspecific density. We grew replicates of 12 ecotypes of Arabidopsis thaliana at high and low density and measured seed dispersion patterns and maternal traits associated with dispersal under controlled conditions. We found density-dependent ecotypic variation for maternal traits that influence dispersal. Significant genetic variation for postdispersal sibling density was detected only when plants were grown at high density, suggesting that if dispersal evolves to result in lower postdispersal densities, the expression of genetic variation for dispersal would be reduced. This dynamic could lead to a plasticity-induced constraint on the evolution of dispersal. The ability of organisms to alter the environment they experience and the ability of that environment to evolve can alter evolutionary dynamics by augmenting or reducing evolutionary potential and thereby facilitating or constraining evolutionary responses to selection.

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