, Volume 159, Issue 2, pp 119-130

Ecotypic differentiation in Medicago polymorpha L. along an environmental gradient in central Chile. I. Phenology, biomass production and reproductive patterns

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Abstract

Burr Medic (Medicago polymorpha) is awidespread, polymorphic annual legume of Mediterranean origin, and as aself-reseeding, highly effective nitrogen fixer it has important value invarious dryland farming systems. In central Chile, it is naturalized along a1000 km long environmental gradient, from an arid zone(29°–31° S) to a perhumid one(37°–38°24' S). Comparative and experimental studiesof its ecotypic differentiation patterns along this gradient should be usefulinelucidating the evolutionary forces at work along environmental gradients, andalso for efforts to select annual legumes for pastures and fallow fieldimprovement in mediterranean climate areas. In this first paper of atwo-part series, we present results of two common-environmentexperiments conducted at a subhumid site in central Chile to compare vegetativeand reproductive traits in 69 populations of Burr Medic collected in 1988 and1994. Multivariate analyses based on 11 phenological and agronomic characters,including phenology and biomass accumulation, winter vigour and degree ofhard-seededness, showed that three principal components (PCs)explained nearly 70% of total variability, in both collections. For thelarger collection (1988), the diagram of dispersion for the first twoPCs – phenology, winter vigour and above-ground biomass –provided good discrimination between accessions from arid-semiarid andhumid-perhumid mediterranean zones. Onset of flowering was positivelycorrelated with both latitude and longitude, as well as mean annualprecipitation/potential evapotranspiration (PP/ETP) ofcollecting site; days from first flower to pod ripening was negativelycorrelated with PP/ETP. In contrast to reports from Syria and Sardinia, noclear trends in Burr Medic seed or pod-related traits was found along theChilean gradient, apart from the concentration of spiny pod accessions in thesouthern, more mesic end of the gradient. Winter vigour (according to asemi-quantitative analysis of growth) was greater in accessions fromthe warmer, arid and semiarid zones than in those from cooler, subhumid tohumidones. Both winter vigour and harvest index were negatively correlated with daysto first flower. Applied and evolutionary aspects of the results are brieflydiscussed.