The extent to which a species' environmental range reflects adaptive differentiation remains an open question. Environmental gradients can lead to adaptive divergence when differences in stressors among sites along the gradient place conflicting demands on the balance of stress responses. The extent to which this is accomplished through stress tolerance vs stress avoidance is also an open question. We present results from a controlled environment study of 48 lineages of Arabidopsis thaliana collected along a gradient in northeastern Spain across which temperatures increase and precipitation decreases with decreasing elevation. We tested the extent to which clinal adaptive divergence in heat and drought is explained through tolerance and avoidance traits by subjecting plants to a dynamic growth chamber cycle of increasing heat and drought stress analogous to low elevation spring in northeastern Spain. Lineages collected at low elevation were the most fit and fitness scaled with elevation of origin. Higher fitness was associated with earlier bolting, greater early allocation to increased numbers of inflorescences, reduction in rosette leaf photosynthesis and earlier fruit ripening. We propose that this is a syndrome of avoidance through early flowering accompanied by restructuring of the organism that adapts A. thaliana to low-elevation Mediterranean climates.
Keywords: Arabidopsis thaliana; adaptive differentiation; climate gradient; clinal variation; elevation; heat and drought; local adaptation; natural variation.
© 2013 The Authors. New Phytologist © 2013 New Phytologist Trust.