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Dittmar EL (2017) Local Adaptation and Fitness Trade-Offs. Doctoral dissertation, Michigan State University.

Year Published: 2017

Adaptation generates and maintains genetic and phenotypic diversity. This is thought to occur due to trade-offs, where adaptation to one environment comes at a cost in another. Although trade-offs are believed to play a prominent role in the generation and maintenance of genetic and phenotypic diversity, the mechanisms by which adaptation leads to trade-offs are not well understood.

My research explores the forces that lead to adaptive trade-offs in two systems. First, using a RIL mapping population created from natural populations of Arabidopsis thaliana, I studied the genetic basis of flowering time, a putatively adaptive trait and one that differs between the parental populations. I identified flowering time QTL in growth chambers that mimicked the natural temperature and photoperiod variation across the growing season in each native environment and compared the genomic locations of flowering time QTL to those of fitness (total fruit number) QTL from a previous three- year field study.

In addition, I studied two populations of Leptosiphon parviflorus, an annual wildflower native to California. At Jasper Ridge biological preserve, populations of L. parviflorus grow on and off serpentine soil in close proximity. Due to its harsh growing conditions, serpentine soil exerts strong selective pressures on plants. Despite the close proximity of study populations (<100 m) and ongoing gene flow, reciprocal transplant studies demonstrate that these populations are locally adapted to their native soil types.

To determine the selective agents operating in both habitats and the forces underlying fitness trade-offs, I performed manipulative experiments in the field and greenhouse. Results from these studies show that both soil moisture and competitive interactions are important for mediating fitness differences among the populations, and adaptation to serpentine soil might result in a cost to competitive ability.

I also addressed the causes of flowering-time differences in these populations. Field reciprocal-transplant studies and watering manipulations in the greenhouse demonstrate the contribution of both the genotype and the environment to observed flowering-time differences. The plasticity of flowering time in response to soil type appears to be driven by differences in soil moisture. In addition, selection on flowering time was measured in both soil types across four years of study using a set of F5 advanced generation hybrids and found to differ among the habitats. Therefore, both selection and plasticity contribute to flowering-time differences between these populations and thus have likely played an important role in the initiation and/or maintenance of adaptive divergence in this system.

Finally, the two populations differ in their flower color, a Mendelian trait. Pollinators do not discriminate among flower colors and are unlikely to exert selection on this trait. Instead, flower color may be related to stress tolerance if the causal gene has pleiotropic effects on other traits. Using a set of Near Isogenic Lines (NILs), I found that the flower color locus has an effect on survival in field soil and fecundity in benign conditions. Ongoing work is aimed at addressing the mechanisms underlying the relationship between flower color and soil adaptation.

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Article Title: 
Local Adaptation and Fitness Trade-Offs.