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Geographic variation in climate as a proxy for climate change: Forecasting evolutionary trajectories from species differentiation and genetic correlations


Premise of the study

Climate change models for California predict a warmer, drier future, potentially resulting in shorter growing seasons. If phenotypic differences between closely related species currently distributed across a moisture and temperature gradient represent adaptations to their abiotic environment, then as conditions become warmer and drier, populations presently adapted to cooler and wetter conditions may evolve to become more similar to those adapted to warmer and drier conditions. Two sister species, Clarkia unguiculata and C. exilis, are distributed across a moisture and temperature gradient in the southern Sierra Nevada, providing an opportunity to predict how this process may occur.


In a greenhouse experiment using wild-collected seeds from 11 populations in the southern Sierra Nevada, we examined relationships among elevation, climatic conditions, and population means for each trait, then evaluated bivariate relationships among maternal family means, using raw values and controlling for population and seed mass effects on phenotype.

Key results

Clarkia exilis occupied warmer, drier conditions, typically at lower elevations, than C. unguiculata did and flowered earlier and faster, producing smaller flowers with lower herkogamy. In C. unguiculata, petal area, herkogamy, and the rate of flower production were positively correlated with days to first flower.


If selection favors earlier flowering, smaller petals, or faster flower production in C. unguiculata, then the genetic correlations among these traits should reinforce their joint evolution. Moreover, the correlations between these traits and herkogamy may promote the evolution of self-fertilization as an indirect response to selection, a previously unrecognized potential outcome of climate change.

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