The Genetic Architecture of Shoot and Root Trait Divergence Between Mesic and Xeric Ecotypes of a Perennial Grass

Front Plant Sci. 2019 Apr 4;10:366. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2019.00366. eCollection 2019.


Environmental heterogeneity can drive patterns of functional trait variation and lead to the formation of locally adapted ecotypes. Plant ecotypes are often differentiated by suites of correlated root and shoot traits that share common genetic, developmental, and physiological relationships. For instance, although plant water loss is largely governed by shoot systems, root systems determine water access and constrain shoot water status. To evaluate the genetic basis of root and shoot trait divergence, we developed a recombinant inbred population derived from mesic and xeric ecotypes of the perennial grass Panicum hallii. Our study sheds light on the genetic architecture underlying the relationships between root and shoot traits. We identified several genomic "hotspots" which control suites of correlated root and shoot traits, thus indicating genetic coordination between plant organ systems in the process of ecotypic divergence. Genomic regions of colocalized quantitative trait locus (QTL) for the majority of shoot and root growth related traits were independent of colocalized QTL for shoot and root resource acquisition traits. The allelic effects of individual QTL underscore ecological specialization for drought adaptation between ecotypes and reveal possible hybrid breakdown through epistatic interactions. These results have implications for understanding the factors constraining or facilitating local adaptation in plants.

Keywords: adaptation; ecotype; epistasis; genetic architecture; pleiotropy; quantitative trait locus; recombinant inbred line; root architecture.