Environmental and genetic sources of diversification in the timing of seed germination: implications for the evolution of bet hedging

Evolution. 2006 Nov;60(11):2280-92.


Environmental variation that is not predictably related to cues is expected to drive the evolution of bet-hedging strategies. The high variance observed in the timing of seed germination has led to it being the most cited diversification strategy in the theoretical bet-hedging literature. Despite this theoretical focus, virtually nothing is known about the mechanisms responsible for the generation of individual-level diversification. Here we report analyses of sources of variation in timing of germination within seasons, germination fraction over two generations and three sequential seasons, and the genetic correlation structure of these traits using almost 10,000 seeds from more than 100 genotypes of the monocarpic perennial Lobelia inflata. Microenvironmental analysis of time to germination suggests that extreme sensitivity to environmental gradients, or microplasticity, even within a homogeneous growth chamber, may act as an effective individual-level diversification mechanism and explains more than 30% of variance in time to germination. The heritability of within-season timing of germination was low (h(2) = 0.07) but significant under homogeneous conditions. Consistent with individual-level diversification, this low h(2) was attributable not to low additive genetic variance, but to an unusually high coefficient of residual variation in time to germination. Despite high power to detect additive genetic variance in within-season diversification, it was low and indistinguishable from zero. Restricted maximum likelihood detected significant genetic variation for germination fraction (h(2) = 0.18) under homogeneous conditions. Unexpectedly, this heritability was positive when measured within a generation by sibling analysis and negative when measured across generations by offspring-on-parent regression. The consistency of dormancy fraction over multiple delays, a major premise of Cohen's classic model, was supported by a strong genetic correlation (r = 0.468) observed for a cohort's germination fraction over two seasons. We discuss implications of the results for the evolution of bet hedging and highlight the need for further empirical study of the causal components of diversification.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ecosystem
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genotype
  • Germination / genetics*
  • Germination / physiology*
  • Lobelia / genetics*
  • Lobelia / physiology*
  • Seasons
  • Seeds / genetics*
  • Seeds / physiology*
  • Time Factors