The magnitude and genetic basis of local adaptation is of fundamental interest in evolutionary biology. However, field experiments usually do not consider early life stages, and therefore may underestimate local adaptation and miss genetically based tradeoffs. We examined the contribution of differences in seedling establishment to adaptive differentiation and the genetic architecture of local adaptation using recombinant inbred lines (RIL) derived from a cross between two locally adapted populations (Italy and Sweden) of the annual plant Arabidopsis thaliana We planted freshly matured, dormant seeds (>180 000) representing >200 RILs at the native field sites of the parental genotypes, estimated the strength of selection during different life stages, mapped quantitative trait loci (QTL) for fitness and its components, and quantified selection on seed dormancy. We found that selection during the seedling establishment phase contributed strongly to the fitness advantage of the local genotype at both sites. With one exception, local alleles of the eight distinct establishment QTL were favored. The major QTL for establishment and total fitness showed evidence of a fitness tradeoff and was located in the same region as the major seed dormancy QTL and the dormancy gene DELAY OF GERMINATION 1 (DOG1). RIL seed dormancy could explain variation in seedling establishment and fitness across the life cycle. Our results demonstrate that genetically based differences in traits affecting performance during early life stages can contribute strongly to adaptive differentiation and genetic tradeoffs, and should be considered for a full understanding of the ecology and genetics of local adaptation.
Keywords: QTL mapping; adaptive differentiation; divergent selection; genetic tradeoff; pleiotropy.