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Ecol Evol. 2016 May 12;6(12):3940-52. doi: 10.1002/ece3.2171. eCollection 2016 Jun.

Evolutionary potential in the Alpine: trait heritabilities and performance variation of the dwarf willow Salix herbacea from different elevations and microhabitats.

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Ecology Department of Biology University of Konstanz Universitätsstraße 10 78457 Konstanz Germany.
Department of Ecology and Genetics Uppsala University Norbyvägen 18 D75236 Uppsala Sweden; Present address: Department of Plant Biology Swedish Agricultural University Undervisningsplan 7E 75007 Uppsala Sweden.
WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF Flüelastrasse 117260 Davo sSwitzerland; Institute of Botany University of Basel Schönbeinstrasse 64056 Basel Switzerland; Present address: Department of Environmental Conservation University of Massachusetts Amherst Massachusetts 01003.
Plant Evolutionary Ecology Institute of Evolution and Ecology Auf der Morgenstelle 5 University of Tübingen 72076 Tübingen Germany.
Institute of Botany University of Basel Schönbeinstrasse 6 4056 Basel Switzerland.
Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences Faculty of Forestry University of British Columbia 2424 Main Mall Vancouver British Columbia V6T 1Z4 Canada; Department of Genetics and Physiology of Forest Trees Faculty of Forestry and Wood Sciences Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague Kamýcká 129165 21 Prague 6 Czech Republic; Present address: Scion (New Zealand Forest Research Institute Ltd.)49 Sala Street Whakarewarewa 3046 Rotorua New Zealand.
Department of Botany and Biodiversity Research University of Vienna Rennweg 14 A-1030 Vienna Austria.
WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF Flüelastrasse 11 7260 Davos Switzerland.
Department of Ecology and Genetics Uppsala University Norbyvägen 18 D 75236 Uppsala Sweden.


Alpine ecosystems are seriously threatened by climate change. One of the key mechanisms by which plants can adapt to changing environmental conditions is through evolutionary change. However, we still know little about the evolutionary potential in wild populations of long-lived alpine plants. Here, we investigated heritabilities of phenological traits, leaf size, and performance traits in natural populations of the long-lived alpine dwarf shrub Salix herbacea using relatedness estimates inferred from SSR (Simple Sequence Repeat) markers. Salix herbacea occurs in early- and late-snowmelt microhabitats (ridges and snowbeds), and we assessed how performance consequences of phenological traits and leaf size differ between these microhabitats in order to infer potential for evolutionary responses. Salix herbacea showed low, but significant, heritabilities of leaf size, clonal and sexual reproduction, and moderate heritabilities of phenological traits. In both microhabitats, we found that larger leaves, longer intervals between snowmelt and leaf expansion, and longer GDD (growing-degree days) until leaf expansion resulted in a stronger increase in the number of stems (clonal reproduction). In snowbeds, clonal reproduction increased with a shorter GDD until flowering, while the opposite was found on ridges. Furthermore, the proportion of flowering stems increased with GDD until flowering in both microhabitats. Our results suggest that the presence of significant heritable variation in morphology and phenology might help S. herbacea to adapt to changing environmental conditions. However, it remains to be seen if the rate of such an evolutionary response can keep pace with the rapid rate of climate change.


Adaptive evolution; SSR markers; alpine ecosystem; animal model; long‐lived plants; snowmelt microhabitats

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