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J Evol Biol. 2008 Sep;21(5):1321-34. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2008.01566.x. Epub 2008 Jun 28.

A change in climate causes rapid evolution of multiple life-history traits and their interactions in an annual plant.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Larkin Hall, Fordham University, Bronx, NY 10458, USA.


Climate change is likely to spur rapid evolution, potentially altering integrated suites of life-history traits. We examined evolutionary change in multiple life-history traits of the annual plant Brassica rapa collected before and after a recent 5-year drought in southern California. We used a direct approach to examining evolutionary change by comparing ancestors and descendants. Collections were made from two populations varying in average soil moisture levels, and lines propagated from the collected seeds were grown in a greenhouse and experimentally subjected to conditions simulating either drought (short growing season) or high precipitation (long growing season) years. Comparing ancestors and descendants, we found that the drought caused many changes in life-history traits, including a shift to earlier flowering, longer duration of flowering, reduced peak flowering and greater skew of the flowering schedule. Descendants had thinner stems and fewer leaf nodes at the time of flowering than ancestors, indicating that the drought selected for plants that flowered at a smaller size and earlier ontogenetic stage rather than selecting for plants to develop more rapidly. Thus, there was not evidence for absolute developmental constraints to flowering time evolution. Common principal component analyses showed substantial differences in the matrix of trait covariances both between short and long growing season treatments and between populations. Although the covariances matrices were generally similar between ancestors and descendants, there was evidence for complex evolutionary changes in the relationships among the traits, and these changes depended on the population and treatment. These results show that a full appreciation of the impacts of global change on phenotypic evolution will entail an understanding of how changes in climatic conditions affect trait values and the structure of relationships among traits.

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