Pattern and process: evidence for the evolution of photosynthetic traits in natural populations
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The patterns of interspecific variation identified by comparative studies provide valuable hypotheses about the role of physiological traits in evolutionary adaptation. This review covers tests of these hypotheses for photosynthetic traits that have used a microevolutionary perspective to characterize physiological variation among and within populations. Studies of physiological differentiation among populations show that evolutionary divergence in photosynthetic traits is common within species, and has a pattern that supports many adaptive hypotheses. These among-population studies imply that selection has influenced photosynthetic traits in some way, but they are not designed to identify the traits targeted by selection or the environmental agents that cause selection. Analyses of genetic and phenotypic variation within populations address these questions. Studies that have quantified genetic variation within populations show that levels of heritable variation can be adequate for evolutionary change in photosynthetic traits. Other studies have measured phenotypic selection for these traits by analyzing how the variation within populations is correlated with fitness. This work has shown that selection for photosynthetic traits may often operate indirectly via correlations with other traits, and emphasizes the importance of viewing the phenotype as an integrated function of growth, morphology, life-history and physiology. We also outline some methodological problems that may be encountered for ecophysiological traits by these types of studies, provide some potential solutions, and discuss future directions for the field of plant evolutionary ecophysiology.
KeywordsAdaptation Phenotypic integration Photosynthesis Types of selection Water-use efficiency
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