Plant functional traits often vary across space, particularly when species encounter contrasting environmental conditions throughout their range. Such phenotypic variation is determined by both genetic and environmental effects. Understanding their relative contribution to trait variation and how they influence plant adaptation are central questions in evolutionary ecology. Yet, they are also of potential importance to agriculture, particularly if variation is observed in functional traits in natural populations of crop wild relatives.
In a new study published in AoBP, Matesanz et al. assessed adaptive differentiation and phenotypic plasticity in populations of Lupinus angustifolius, a Mediterranean crop wild relative, from two regions in the Iberian Peninsula. The authors compare how plants from different populations respond to two water availability treatments (drought and well-watered) by measuring several functional traits (including those related to growth, physiology, morphology, phenology and reproduction). Plants under drought were found to reproduce faster, produce larger seeds and showed changes in leaf morphology, consistent with adaptive plasticity. Significant differences in responses to drought were found between plants from different geographic regions and likely reflect adaptation of southern populations to drier environments. The authors conclude that both genetic differentiation and plasticity can contribute to the adaptation of Lupinus angustifolius to different water-availability environments. The study also identified potentially valuable genetic resources to improve the currently small genetic pool of domesticated lupin material.
Silvia Matesanz is a plant evolutionary ecologist. She conducted her PhD on the functional ecology of plants from gypsum soils at the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain. She then held a 2 year postdoctoral position in Wesleyan University, CT, USA studying the adaptive value of phenotypic plasticity and its evolutionary potential. She currently has a tenure-track position at Universidad Rey Juan Carlos.
Silvia’s research group studies phenotypic variation in natural plant populations, focusing specifically on how individual plants differentially respond to contrasting environmental conditions. To examine the interplay between environmental (plastic) and genetic effects, she uses a combination of field, laboratory and common garden experiments.