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J Evol Biol. 2011 Jul;24(7):1442-54. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2011.02277.x. Epub 2011 Apr 21.

Adaptive responses for seed and leaf phenology in natural populations of sessile oak along an altitudinal gradient.

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INRA, UMR1202 Biodiversité Gènes et Communautés, Cestas, France.


We assessed the adaptive potential of seed and leaf phenology in 10 natural populations of sessile oak (Quercus petraea) sampled along two altitudinal transects using common garden experiments. Population differentiation for both phenological traits was observed with high-altitude populations germinating and flushing later than low altitude ones. However, high genetic variation and heritability values were also maintained within populations, despite slightly decreasing for dates of leaf unfolding with increasing altitude. We suggest that biotic and abiotic fluctuating selection pressures within populations and high gene flow are the main mechanisms maintaining high genetic variation for these fitness related traits. Moreover, changes in selection intensity and/or selection pressures along the altitudinal gradient can explain the reduction in genetic variation observed for leaf phenology. We anticipate that the maintenance of high genetic variation will be a valuable resource for future adaptation of sessile oak populations undergoing an upslope shift caused by climate change.

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