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Test of local adaptation to biotic interactions and soil abiotic conditions in the ant-tended Chamaecrista fasciculata (Fabaceae)

Abdala-Roberts, Luis, Marquis, Robert J.
Oecologia 2007 v.154 no.2 pp. 315-326
Chamaecrista fasciculata, evolution, flowers, greenhouse experimentation, greenhouses, herbivores, plant reproduction, predators, reproductive performance, seedlings, soil
Few previous studies have assessed the role of herbivores and the third trophic level in the evolution of local adaptation in plants. The overall objectives of this study were to determine (1) whether local adaptation is present in the ant-defended plant, Chamaecrista fasciculata, and (2) the contribution of ant-plant-herbivore interactions and soil source to such adaptation. We used three C. fasciculata populations and performed both a field and a greenhouse experiment. The first involved reciprocally transplanting C. fasciculata seedlings from each population-source to each site, and subsequently applying one of three treatments to one-third of the seedlings of each population-source at each site: control, reduced ant density and reduced folivory. The greenhouse experiment involved reciprocal transplants of population-sources with soil sources to test for a soil-source effect on flower production and local adaptation to soil conditions. Field results showed that ant and herbivore treatments reduced ant density (increasing folivory) and herbivore damage relative to controls, respectively; however, these manipulations did not impact C. fasciculata reproduction or the likelihood of survival. In contrast, greenhouse results showed that soil source significantly affected flower production. Overall, plants in both experiments, regardless of population-source, always had higher reproductive output at one specific site. Native populations did not outperform nonnative ones, causing us to reject the hypothesis of local adaptation. The absence of treatment effects on plant reproduction and the likelihood of survival suggest a limited effect of ants and folivores on C. fasciculata fitness and local adaptation during the study year. Temporally inconsistent effects of biotic forces across years, coupled with the young age of populations, relative proximity of populations and possible counter effects of seed predators may reduce the likelihood of local adaptation in the populations studied.