, Volume 21, Issue 5, pp 651-662
Date: 30 Dec 2006

Natural selection on ecophysiological traits of a fern species in a temperate rainforest

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Unlike other species of the genus Blechnum, the fern Blechnum chilense occurs in a wide range of habitats in Chilean temperate rainforest, from shaded forest understories to abandoned clearings and large gaps. We asked if contrasting light environments can exert differential selection on ecophysiological traits of B. chilense. We measured phenotypic selection on functional traits related to carbon gain: photosynthetic capacity (A max), dark respiration rate (R d), water use efficiency (WUE), leaf size and leaf thickness in populations growing in gaps and understorey environments. We assessed survival until reproductive stage and fecundity (sporangia production) as fitness components. In order to determine the potential evolutionary response of traits under selection, we estimated the genetic variation of these traits from clonally propagated individuals in common garden experiments. In gaps, survival of B. chilense was positively correlated with WUE and negatively correlated with leaf size. In contrast, survival in shaded understories was positively correlated with leaf size. We found positive directional fecundity selection on WUE in gaps population. In understories, ferns of lower R d and greater leaf size showed greater fecundity. Thus, whereas control of water loss was optimized in gaps, light capture and net carbon balance were optimized in shaded understories. We found a significant genetic component of variation in WUE, R d and leaf size. This study shows the potential for evolutionary responses to heterogeneous light environments in functional traits of B. chilense, a unique fern species able to occupy a broad successional niche in Chilean temperate rainforest.