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Root architecture, plant size and soil nutrient variation in natural populations of Arabidopsis thaliana

Ferguson, Laura, Sancho, Gorka, Rutter, Matthew T., Murren, Courtney J.
Evolutionary ecology 2016 v.30 no.1 pp. 155-171
Arabidopsis thaliana, climatic factors, edaphic factors, greenhouses, natural selection, phenotype, phenotypic variation, population density, roots, shoots, soil, soil nutrients, Iberian Peninsula
Phenotypic variation in ecologically important traits may vary at large and small geographic scales, and may be shaped by natural selection. Here our explicit aim is to evaluate phenotypic differentiation among local populations and examine its relationship with ecological edaphic and climatic features that could lead to local adaptation. We characterized six populations of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana over 3 years in the field in its native range. At each site, we measured edaphic conditions and aboveground and belowground phenotypes. In addition, we grew plants from the six characterized populations in a common greenhouse along with an additional fifteen populations from the Iberian Peninsula to examine evolutionary and ecological differentiation among populations, and relationships between geographic and ecological distance to phenotypic differences among populations. Significant differences in aboveground and belowground traits, population density, and micro- and macro-nutrient soil concentrations were found among the field populations. In particular, root architectural traits differed significantly among field populations. Complex patterns of ecological differences among population and plant phenotypes emerged when examining edaphic conditions in the Extremadura region, and geographic and climate variables at a broader scale of the Iberian Peninsula. We report levels of phenotypic variation at the local scale comparable to those found at broad geographic scales and report that local edaphic conditions contribute to population-level phenotypic variation in root and shoot traits. To our knowledge, these are the first reports of among population root architectural variation from natural field populations for this model organism. We demonstrate how ecological features, such as soil nutrients, can be associated with the phenotypic variation of A. thaliana measured in natural populations and may contribute to adaptive differentiation at a local scale.