, Volume 200, Issue 2, pp 167-177
Date: 05 Jun 2008

Interactions between mountain birch seedlings from differentiated populations in contrasting environments of subarctic Russia

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So far very few experiments have accounted for the combined effect of two phenomena co-occurring in stress gradients: local adaptation to stress and the increase in facilitation with increasing stress (predicted by the stress-gradient hypothesis, SGH). Mountain birch (Betula pubescens subsp. czerepanovii) facilitates conspecific seedlings in subarctic high stress sites and is capable of rapid evolutionary adaptation, being therefore a good model species for a study combining local ecotypes and SGH. A within-species experiment was conducted to test SGH in three stress gradients, detect potential local adaptations between low and high stress populations, and assess their effects on seedling-seedling interactions. Although no evidence for local adaptation was detected, high and low stress populations showed some differentiation, possibly explained by decreasing phenotypic plasticity in high stress conditions and/or neutral evolutionary mechanisms. Weak support for SGH was detected. While facilitation was unaffected by seedling origin, low stress populations showed better competitive ability.