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Evolution. 2005 Apr;59(4):740-57.

Environmental and genetic influences on the germination of Arabidopsis thaliana in the field.

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Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, 22 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.


Seasonal germination timing strongly influences lifetime fitness and can affect the ability of plant populations to colonize and persist in new environments. To quantify the influence of seasonal environmental factors on germination and to test whether pleiotropy or close linkage are significant constraints on the evolution of germination in different seasonal conditions, we dispersed novel recombinant genotypes of Arabidopsis thaliana into two geographic locations. To decouple the photoperiod during seed maturation from the postdispersal season that maternal photoperiod predicts, replicates of recombinant inbred lines were grown under short days and long days under controlled conditions, and their seeds were dispersed during June in Kentucky (KY) and during June and November in Rhode Island (RI). We found that postdispersal seasonal conditions influenced germination more strongly than did the photoperiod during seed maturation. Genetic variation was detected for germination responses to all environmental factors. Transgressive segregation created novel germination phenotypes, revealing a potential contribution of hybridization of ecotypes to the evolution of germination. A genetic trade-off in germination percentage across sites indicated that determinants of fitness at or before the germination stage may constrain the geographic range that a given genotype can inhabit. However, germination timing exhibited only weak pleiotropy across treatments, suggesting that different sets of genes contribute to variation in germination behavior in different seasonal conditions and geographic locations. Thus, the genetic potential exists for rapid evolution of appropriate germination responses in novel environments, facilitating colonization across a broad geographic range.

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