A test of local adaptation to drought in germination and seedling traits in populations of two alpine forbs across a 2000 mm/year precipitation gradient

Ecol Evol. 2023 Feb 7;13(2):e9772. doi: 10.1002/ece3.9772. eCollection 2023 Feb.


Seed regeneration is a critical stage in the life histories of plants, affecting species’ abilities to maintain local populations, evolve, and disperse to new sites. In this study, we test for local adaptations to drought in germination and seedling growth of two alpine forbs with contrasting habitat preferences: the alpine generalist Veronica alpina and the snowbed specialist Sibbaldia procumbens. We sampled seeds of each species from four populations spanning a precipitation gradient from 1200 to 3400 mm/year in western Norway. In a growth chamber experiment, we germinated seeds from each population at 10 different water potentials under controlled light and temperature conditions. Drought led to lower germination percentage in both species, and additionally, slower germination, and more investment in roots for V. alpina. These responses varied along the precipitation gradient. Seeds from the driest populations had higher germination percentage, shorter time to germination, and higher investments in the roots under drought conditions than the seeds from the wettest populations – suggesting local adaption to drought. The snowbed specialist, S. procumbens, had lower germination percentages under drought, but otherwise did not respond to drought in ways that indicate physiological or morphological adaptions to drought. S. procumbens germination also did not vary systematically with precipitation of the source site, but heavier-seeded populations germinated to higher rates and tolerated drought better. Our study is the first to test drought effects on seed regeneration in alpine plants populations from high-precipitation regions. We found evidence that germination and seedling traits may show adaptation to drought even in populations from wet habitats. Our results also indicate that alpine generalists might be more adapted to drought and show more local adaptations in drought responses than snowbed specialists.

PMID:36778839 | PMC:PMC9905427 | DOI:10.1002/ece3.9772


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