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Genetic and Ecotypic Differentiation in a Californian Plant Polyploid Complex (Grindelia, Asteraceae)


Studies of ecotypic differentiation in the California Floristic Province have contributed greatly to plant evolutionary biology since the pioneering work of Clausen, Keck, and Hiesey. The extent of gene flow and genetic differentiation across interfertile ecotypes that span major habitats in the California Floristic Province is understudied, however, and is important for understanding the prospects for local adaptation to evolve or persist in the face of potential gene flow across populations in different ecological settings. We used microsatellite data to examine local differentiation in one of these lineages, the Pacific Coast polyploid complex of the plant genus Grindelia (Asteraceae). We examined 439 individuals in 10 different populations. The plants grouped broadly into a coastal and an inland set of populations. The coastal group contained plants from salt marshes and coastal bluffs, as well as a population growing in a serpentine grassland close to the coast, while the inland group contained grassland plants. No evidence for hybridization was found at the single location where adjacent populations of the two groups were sampled. In addition to differentiation along ecotypic lines, there was also a strong signal of local differentiation, with the plants grouping strongly by population. The strength of local differentiation is consistent with the extensive morphological variation observed across populations and the history of taxonomic confusion in the group. The Pacific Clade of Grindelia and other young Californian plant groups warrant additional analysis of evolutionary divergence along the steep coast-to-inland climatic gradient, which has been associated with local adaptation and ecotype formation since the classic studies of Clausen, Keck, and Hiesey.

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