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Durham University

Department of Biosciences

News and Events

Spatio-temporal variation in fitness responses to contrasting environments in Arabidopsis thaliana

(27 July 2018)

Map of Iberia showing field experiment sites in the south of Spain (coloured points) and original plant sampling sites in the north of Spain (black points).

Spatio-temporal variation in fitness responses to contrasting environments in Arabidopsis thaliana
Moises Exposito-Alonso, Adrian C. Brennan, Carlos Alonso-Blanco, F. Xavier Picó
to be published in the Journal: Evolution

Species will experience strong and sometimes unpredictable new selection pressures during the next few decades of climate change. Conservation management should seek to maintain sufficient species variation, which will be crucial to surviving the next few years of climate change, in particular the ability to cope with extreme weather events.
These are the main conclusions drawn by researchers, including Durham-based Dr Adrian Brennan, after analysing several years of performance data for thale cress plants transplanted from northern to southern Spain. These field experiments simulate expected climate change during the next few decades because climate conditions are shifting northward and upward in the northern hemisphere. The study plant is a small annual with limited dispersal ability, which means it must quickly adapt to local conditions for survival.
Overall, transplanted populations showed sufficiently variable responses to be able to cope with new environmental conditions. However, year to year weather variation were found to be extremely important in determining performance. Plants that could flower earlier were usually found to be most fit, except during an unusual wet year when the opposite trend was observed. In contrast, an unusually dry year led to very high early mortality threatening the persistance of the experimental population. This study has been published in the journal Evolution.