The influence of environmental factors on breeding system allocation at large spatial scales

The role of environmental factors in driving phenotypic trait variation among populations is a central focus in ecology and evolutionary biology. Such phenotypic variation includes variation in plant breeding systems, which are remarkably diverse, yet few studies have investigated how abiotic factors correlate to variation in plant breeding systems across broad geographic ranges. Triodanis perfoliata is a species with considerable variation in reproductive traits, including cleistogamy (the production of two different types of flowers [closed and open] on the same plant).

The range of the study species and model fits
The overall range of Triodanis perfoliata across the contiguous USA and the relationship between model estimates and observed reproductive trait measures (inset). Image credit: Ansaldi et al.

In a recent study published in AoBP, Ansaldi et al. modelled breeding system variation with climate and soil variables across fourteen geographically widespread populations of T. perfoliata. This study used a novel approach to examine how variation in the environment could drive variation in breeding system allocation at large spatial scales. A large proportion of breeding system variation was described by climate and soil variables in the model (R2 = 0.65–0.92). This broad geographic analyses provides a framework for future mechanistic studies of cleistogamy, and employs a novel approach for examining reproductive traits and environmental variation at large scales. Given that two major components of the models used by Ansaldi et al. were temperature and precipitation, this study also emphasizes the potential for ongoing climate change to alter plant breeding systems.

Researcher highlight

Jenn Weber obtained a MS in Biology from East Carolina University working with Dr. Carol Goodwillie, and completed a PhD in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of CA, Irvine working with Dr. Stephen Weller and Dr. Ann Sakai. Jenn is currently an Assistant Professor at Southeast Missouri State University.

Jenn is a plant evolutionary ecologist with interests in plant mating system evolution and population responses to climate change. She can be found on Twitter (@FlwrEcoEvo).