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PLOS ONE  2012 

Rapid Development of Adaptive, Climate-Driven Clinal Variation in Seed Mass in the Invasive Annual Forb Echium plantagineum L.

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0049000

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We examined adaptive clinal variation in seed mass among populations of an invasive annual species, Echium plantagineum, in response to climatic selection. We collected seeds from 34 field populations from a 1,000 km long temperature and rainfall gradient across the species' introduced range in south-eastern Australia. Seeds were germinated, grown to reproductive age under common glasshouse conditions, and progeny seeds were harvested and weighed. Analyses showed that seed mass was significantly related to climatic factors, with populations sourced from hotter, more arid sites producing heavier seeds than populations from cooler and wetter sites. Seed mass was not related to edaphic factors. We also found that seed mass was significantly related to both longitude and latitude with each degree of longitude west and latitude north increasing seed mass by around 2.5% and 4% on average. There was little evidence that within-population or between-population variation in seed mass varied in a systematic manner across the study region. Our findings provide compelling evidence for development of a strong cline in seed mass across the geographic range of a widespread and highly successful invasive annual forb. Since large seed mass is known to provide reproductive assurance for plants in arid environments, our results support the hypothesis that the fitness and range potential of invasive species can increase as a result of genetic divergence of populations along broad climatic gradients. In E. plantagineum population-level differentiation has occurred in 150 years or less, indicating that the adaptation process can be rapid.


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