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Evidence for adaptive responses to historic drought across a native plant species range.

  • Author(s): Dickman, Erin E
  • Pennington, Lillie K
  • Franks, Steven J
  • Sexton, Jason P
  • et al.

Published Web Location

https://doi.org/10.1111/eva.12803
Abstract

As climatic conditions change, species will be forced to move or adapt to avoid extinction. Exacerbated by ongoing climate change, California recently experienced a severe and exceptional drought from 2011 to 2017. To investigate whether an adaptive response occurred during this event, we conducted a "resurrection" study of the cutleaf monkeyflower (Mimulus laciniatus), an annual plant, by comparing trait means and variances of ancestral seed collections ("pre-drought") with contemporary descendant collections ("drought"). Plants were grown under common conditions to test whether this geographically restricted species has the capacity to respond evolutionarily to climate stress across its range. We examined if traits shifted in response to the recent, severe drought and included populations across an elevation gradient, including populations at the low- and high-elevation edges of the species range. We found that time to seedling emergence in the drought generation was significantly earlier than in the pre-drought generation, a response consistent with drought adaptation. Additionally, trait variation in days to emergence was reduced in the drought generation, which suggests selection or bottleneck events. Days to first flower increased significantly by elevation, consistent with climate adaptation across the species range. Drought generation plants were larger and had greater reproduction, which was likely a carryover effect of earlier germination. These results demonstrate that rapid shifts in trait means and variances consistent with climate adaptation are occurring within populations, including peripheral populations at warm and cold climate limits, of a plant species with a relatively restricted range that has so far not shifted its elevation distribution during contemporary climate change. Thus, rapid evolution may mitigate, at least temporarily, range shifts under global climate change. This study highlights the need for better understanding rapid adaptation as a means for plant communities to cope with extraordinary climate events.

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