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Evolution. 2005 Apr;59(4):771-85.

Niche construction through germination cueing: life-history responses to timing of germination in Arabidopsis thaliana.

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


Germination responses to seasonal conditions determine the environment experienced by postgermination life stages, and this ability has potential consequences for the evolution of plant life histories. Using recombinant inbred lines of Arabidopsis thaliana, we tested whether life-history characters exhibited plasticity to germination timing, whether germination timing influenced the strength and mode of natural selection on life-history traits, and whether germination timing influenced the expression of genetic variation for life-history traits. Adult life-history traits exhibited strong plasticity to season of germination, and season of germination significantly altered the strength, mode, and even direction of selection on life-history traits under some conditions. None of the average plastic responses to season of germination or season of dispersal were adaptive, although some genotypes within our sample did exhibit adaptive responses. Thus, recombination between inbred lineages created some novel adaptive genotypes with improved responses to the seasonal timing of germination under some, but not all, conditions. Genetically based variation in germination time tended to augment genetic variances of adult life-history traits, but it did not increase the heritabilities because it also increased environmentally induced variance. Under some conditions, plasticity of life-history traits in response to genetically variable germination timing actually obscured genetic variation for those traits. Therefore, the evolution of germination responses can influence the evolution of life histories in a general manner by altering natural selection on life-history traits and the genetic variation of these traits.

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