Population Ecology

, Volume 53, Issue 1, pp 9–21 | Cite as

The contribution of evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) to a modern synthesis of evolutionary ecology

Special Feature: Review Linking Genome to Ecosystem


In this review, I consider the contribution that common evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) has made towards integrating the ecology, evolution and genetics of species interactions. Oenothera biennis was among the earliest plant models in genetics and cytogenetics and it played an important role in the modern synthesis of evolutionary biology. More recently, population and ecological genetics approaches have provided insight into the patterns of genetic variation within and between populations, and how a combination of abiotic and biotic factors maintain and select on heritable variation within O. biennis populations. From an ecological perspective, field experiments show that genetic variation and evolution within populations can have cascading effects throughout communities. Plant genotype affects the preference and performance of individual arthropod populations, as well as the composition, biomass, total abundance and diversity of arthropod species on plants. A combination of experiments and simulation models show that natural selection on specific plant traits can drive rapid ecological changes in these same community variables. At the patch level, increasing genotypic diversity leads to a greater abundance and diversity of omnivorous and predaceous arthropods, which is also associated with increased biomass and fecundity of plants in genetically diverse patches. Finally, in questioning whether a community genetics perspective is needed in biology, I review several multifactorial experiments which show that plant genotype often explains as much variation in community variables as other ecological factors typically identified as most important in ecology. As a whole, research in the O. biennis system has contributed to a more complete understanding of the dynamic interplay between ecology, evolution and genetics.


Coevolution Community genetics Extended phenotype Genecology Indirect genetic effect Tritrophic 



I thank Takayuki Ohgushi and Takashi Saitoh for their encouragement and patience with this review. T. Ohgushi and two anonymous reviewers provided constructive feedback which greatly improved the final draft. This work was supported by NSF grants DEB-0919869 and DEB-0950486 to M.T.J.J.


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© The Society of Population Ecology and Springer 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Plant BiologyNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA

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