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PLoS One. 2009 Sep 29;4(9):e7213. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0007213.

Demographic and genetic patterns of variation among populations of Arabidopsis thaliana from contrasting native environments.

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Departamento de Ecología Integrativa, Estación Biológica de Doñana, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Sevilla, Spain.



Understanding the relationship between environment and genetics requires the integration of knowledge on the demographic behavior of natural populations. However, the demographic performance and genetic composition of Arabidopsis thaliana populations in the species' native environments remain largely uncharacterized. This information, in combination with the advances on the study of gene function, will improve our understanding on the genetic mechanisms underlying adaptive evolution in A. thaliana.


We report the extent of environmental, demographic, and genetic variation among 10 A. thaliana populations from Mediterranean (coastal) and Pyrenean (montane) native environments in northeast Spain. Geographic, climatic, landscape, and soil data were compared. Demographic traits, including the dynamics of the soil seed bank and the attributes of aboveground individuals followed over a complete season, were also analyzed. Genetic data based on genome-wide SNP markers were used to describe genetic diversity, differentiation, and structure. Coastal and montane populations significantly differed in terms of environmental, demographic, and genetic characteristics. Montane populations, at higher altitude and farther from the sea, are exposed to colder winters and prolonged spring moisture compared to coastal populations. Montane populations showed stronger secondary seed dormancy, higher seedling/juvenile mortality in winter, and initiated flowering later than coastal populations. Montane and coastal regions were genetically differentiated, montane populations bearing lower genetic diversity than coastal ones. No significant isolation-by-distance pattern and no shared multilocus genotypes among populations were detected.


Between-region variation in climatic patterns can account for differences in demographic traits, such as secondary seed dormancy, plant mortality, and recruitment, between coastal and montane A. thaliana populations. In addition, differences in plant mortality can partly account for differences in the genetic composition of coastal and montane populations. This study shows how the interplay between variation in environmental, demographic, and genetic parameters may operate in natural A. thaliana populations.

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