Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 565–582

On the evolution of clonal plant life histories

  • Markus Fischer
  • Mark Van Kleunen

DOI: 10.1023/A:1016013721469

Cite this article as:
Fischer, M. & Van Kleunen, M. Evolutionary Ecology (2001) 15: 565. doi:10.1023/A:1016013721469


Clonal plant life histories are special in at least four respects: (1) Clonal plants can also reproduce vegetatively, (2) vegetative reproduction can be realised with short or long spacers, (3) and it may allow to plastically place vegetative offspring in benign patches. (4) Moreover, ramets of clonal plants may remain physically and physiologically integrated. Because of the apparent utility of such traits and because ecological patterns of distribution of clonal and non-clonal plants differ, adaptation is a tempting explanation of observed clonal life-history variation. However, adaptive evolution requires (1) heritable genetic variation and (2) a trait effect on fitness, and (3) it may be constrained if other evolutionary forces are overriding selection or by constraints, costs and trade-offs. (1) The few studies undertaken so far reported broad-sense heritability for clonal traits. Variation in selectively neutral genetic markers appears as pronounced in populations of clonal as non-clonal plants. However, neutral markers may not reflect heritable variation of life-history traits. Moreover, clonal plants may have been sampled at larger spatial scales. Empirical information on the contribution of somatic mutations to heritable variation is lacking. (2) Clonal life-history traits were found to affect fitness. However, much of this evidence stems from artificial rather than natural environments. (3) The relative importance of gene flow, inbreeding, and genetic drift, compared with selection, in the evolution of clonal life histories is hardly explored. Benefits of clonal life-history traits were frequently studied and found. However, there is also evidence for constraints, trade-offs, and costs. In conclusion, though it is very likely, that clonal life-history traits are adaptive, it is neither clear to which degree this is the case, nor which clonal life-history traits constitute adaptations to which environmental factors. Moreover, evolutionary interactions among clonal life-history traits and between clonal and non-clonal ones, such as the mating system, are not well explored. There remains much interesting work to be done in this field – which will be particularly interesting if it is done in the field.

adaptive evolution clonal integration constraint environmental heterogeneity foraging genetic variation guerilla and phalanx strategy natural selection phenotypic plasticity sexual and vegetative reproduction trade-off 

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Markus Fischer
    • 1
  • Mark Van Kleunen
    • 2
  1. 1.Institut für UmweltwissenschaftenUniversity of ZürichZürichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Institut für UmweltwissenschaftenUniversity of ZürichZürichSwitzerland