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Ecotypic divergences of the alpine herb Potentilla matsumurae adapted to fellfield-snowbed habitats across a series of mountain sky islands

Akira S Hirao, Yoshiko Shimono, Kenji Narita, Naoya Wada, Gaku Kudo
American Journal of Botany 2019 May 23
31124143

PREMISE: Divergent selection due to environmental heterogeneity can lead to local adaptation. However, the ecological and evolutionary processes of local adaptation that occurs across multiple regions are often unknown. Our previous studies reported on the ecotypic divergence within a local area of variation of Potentilla matsumurae, an alpine herb adapted to the fellfield-snowbed environment. Here we investigated large-scale geographic patterns of ecotypic differentiation in this species to infer local adaptation and selective forces across multiple regions.

METHODS: We compiled information on the overall distributions of fellfield and snowbed habitats on the mountains in Japan across the distribution of the species. Next, we conducted common garden experiments to test the adaptive divergence of the fellfield-snowbed plants derived from multiple regions. Finally, we evaluated phylogeographic structures based on cpDNA and allozyme variations and inferred the evolutionary history of ecotype differentiation.

RESULTS: The mosaic distribution of the fellfield-snowbed ecotypes across isolated mountaintops constitutes indirect evidence for habitat-specific natural selection. The significant difference in survivorship between the ecotypes observed in a controlled snow environment provides more substantial evidence of local selection. Phylogeographic structures support the hypothesis that ecotypic divergence events from fellfield to snowbed populations occurred independently in at least two distinct regions.

CONCLUSIONS: Ecotypic divergence of P. matsumurae has occurred across a series of mountain sky islands. Local selection in snowy environments is a driving force that maintains the divergent ecotypes across multiple mountain regions and can contribute to the diversification of plants in heavy-snow regions.

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