Quantifying temporal change in plant population attributes: insights from a resurrection approach

Plant populations vary over time as a result of the effects of environmental variation on life-cycle traits and genetic diversity. It is important to quantify how much populations actually change over time to better understand the response of plants to rapid environmental shifts, such as those imposed by global climate change. A recent study by Gómez et al., and published as an Editor’s Choice article in AoBP, quantifies the extent of phenotypic and genetic change over time in natural populations of the annual plant Arabidopsis thaliana.

A. thaliana plants grown for the experiment
Rosettes of individuals from different populations and years growing in field conditions to estimate temporal changes in flowering time. Image credit: Gómez et al.

The authors grew seeds from four well-known Spanish A. thaliana populations sampled in either 2003-04 or 2012-13 and evaluated the differences in flowering time between these samplings. Annual weather records were compared to historical records to extract patterns of climatic shifts over time. Genetic diversity and differentiation were evaluated based on neutral nuclear markers and nucleotide diversity in candidate flowering time (FRI and FLC) and seed dormancy (DOG1) genes. Lastly, the role of genetic drift was estimated by computing effective population sizes with the temporal method. The results indicated that populations of A. thaliana experienced substantial genetic changes over just a decade. Interestingly, these changes seemed to be mediated by the combination of warming and precipitation and the populations remained viable over time suggesting that plants may possess the means to cope with global climate change. Nonetheless, the authors stress the importance of quantifying the pace and intensity of temporal change in plant populations by resampling populations periodically and conducting resurrection experiments such as this one. In the case of A. thaliana, the authors suggest the need to scale up the study presented to a larger number of A. thaliana populations across different environments in the Iberian Peninsula from which we possess seed collected and preserved since the early 2000s.

Researcher highlight

Xavier Picó

Xavier Picó obtained a PhD in Biological Science from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Barcelona, Spain) in 2000. Xavier has held postdoctoral research positions in the Department of Ecology at Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands (2000-2003), the Department of Plant Molecular Genetics at CNB-CSIC, Madrid, Spain (2003-2004), and CREAF, Barcelona, Spain (2004-2006). Since 2006, Xavier has been an associate scientist at the Estación Biológica de Doñana (EBD-CSIC) in Sevilla, Spain. He is also an Associate Editor for the journal AoBP.

Xavier is a population biologist interested in understanding the processes that govern the performance, dynamics and evolution of plant populations across space and over time. His multidisciplinary research integrates data from field studies, common garden experiments, and molecular work using natural populations of the annual plant Arabidopsis thalianafrom its western Mediterranean Basin range.

Reference List

Gómez, R., Méndez-Vigo, B., Marcer, A., Alonso-Blanco, C., & Picó, F. X. (2018). Quantifying temporal change in plant population attributes: insights from a resurrection approach. AoB PLANTS, 10(5). https://doi.org/10.1093/aobpla/ply063