Microgeographic adaptation and the effect of pollen flow on the adaptive potential of a temperate tree species

  • In species with long‐distance dispersal capacities and inhabiting a large ecological niche, local selection and gene flow are expected to be major evolutionary forces affecting the genetic adaptation of natural populations. Yet, in species such as trees, evidence of microgeographic adaptation and the quantitative assessment of the impact of gene flow on adaptive genetic variation are still limited.
  • Here, we used extensive genetic and phenotypic data from European beech seedlings collected along an elevation gradient, and grown in a common garden, to study the signature of selection on the divergence of eleven potentially adaptive traits, and to assess the role of gene flow in resupplying adaptive genetic variation.
  • We found a significant signal of adaptive differentiation among plots separated by < 1 km, with selection acting on growth and phenological traits. Consistent with theoretical expectations, our results suggest that pollen dispersal contributes to increase genetic diversity for these locally differentiated traits.
  • Our results thus highlight that local selection is an important evolutionary force in natural tree populations and suggest that management interventions to facilitate movement of gametes along short ecological gradients would boost genetic diversity of individual tree populations, and enhance their adaptive potential to rapidly changing environments.


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