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BACKGROUND AND AIMS: The persistence of a plant population under a specific local climatic regime requires phenotypic adaptation with underlying peculiar combinations of alleles at adaptive loci. The level of allele diversity at adaptive loci within a natural plant population conditions its potential to evolve, notably towards adaptation to a change in climate. Investigating the environmental factors that contribute to maintain adaptive diversity in populations is thus worthwhile. Within-population allele diversity at adaptive loci can be partly driven by the mean climate at population site but also by its temporal variability.
METHODS: The effects of climate temporal mean and variability on within-population allele diversity at putatively adaptive QTLs were evaluated using 385 natural populations of Lolium perenne L. (perennial ryegrass) collected right across Europe. For seven adaptive traits related to reproductive phenology and vegetative potential growth seasonality, the average within-population allele diversity at major QTLs (HeA) was computed.
KEY RESULTS: Significant relationships were found between HeA of these traits and temporal mean and variability of local climate. Those relationships were consistent with functional ecology theory.
CONCLUSIONS: Results indicated that temporal variability of local climate has likely led to fluctuating directional selection, which has contributed to maintain allele diversity at adaptive loci and thus potential for further adaptation.
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