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Am Nat. 1997 Aug;150(2):143-78.

Life on the edge: adaptation versus environmentally mediated gene flow in the snow buttercup, Ranunculus adoneus.

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Section of Evolution and Ecology and Center for Population Biology, University of California, Davis, California 95616, USA.


We used experimental transplant studies to understand how dispersal and habitat-specific selection interact to influence plant populations occupying heterogeneous environments. The snow buttercup (Ranunculus adoneus) occupies a steep ecological and flowering time gradient caused by persistent snowmelt differences within its snow bed habitat. We transplanted seeds, seedlings, and adults to learn about the potential interactions between dispersal and selection. We found that adaptive differentiation is not occurring along the snowmelt gradient, despite striking differences in microhabitat conditions and reproductive phenology between early- and latemelting sites. Instead, our results imply that environmentally based differences in seed quality are contributing to directional gene flow from early-melting locations toward latemelting locations. Emergence and early survival of seedlings is greater in late-melting sites in some years, but the larger seeds produced by maternal plants in early-melting locations consistently have a fitness advantage in all parts of the snow bed. Larger seeds survive longer in the soil and have a second peak of seedling emergence in their third year, but these late-emerging seedlings are successful only if dispersed to less vegetated, late-melting destinations. The longer growing season in earlymelting sites enhances vegetative growth at all life-history stages and increases fecundity of seedling transplants but also limits the opportunity for establishment from seed. Our demographic analysis suggests that maternal environmental effects on propagule quality can lead to directional gene flow from benign to marginal sites in populations occupying heterogeneous habitats.


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