Plant and Soil

, Volume 352, Issue 1–2, pp 243–251

Soil-mediated local adaptation alters seedling survival and performance

  • David Solance Smith
  • Jennifer A. Schweitzer
  • Philip Turk
  • Joseph K. Bailey
  • Stephen C. Hart
  • Stephen M. Shuster
  • Thomas G. Whitham
Regular Article


Background and aims

Soils can act as agents of natural selection, causing differential fitness among genotypes and/or families of the same plant species, especially when soils have extreme physical or chemical properties. More subtle changes in soils, such as variation in microbial communities, may also act as agents of selection. We hypothesized that variation in soil properties within a single river drainage can be a selective gradient, driving local adaptation in plants.


Using seeds collected from individual genotypes of Populus angustifolia James and soils collected from underneath the same trees, we use a reciprocal transplant design to test whether seedlings would be locally adapted to their parental soil type.


We found three patterns: 1. Soils from beneath individual genotypes varied in pH, soil texture, nutrient content, microbial biomass and the physiological status of microorganisms. 2. Seedlings grown in local soils experienced 2.5-fold greater survival than seedlings planted in non-local soils. 3. Using a composite of height, number of leaves and leaf area to measure plant growth, seedlings grew ∼17.5% larger in their local soil than in non-local soil.


These data support the hypothesis that variation in soils across subtle gradients can act as an important selective agent, causing differential fitness and local adaptation in plants.


Home-field advantage Local adaptation Phospholipid fatty acid biomarkers Populus Soil as selective agent Plant soil ineractions 

Supplementary material

11104_2011_992_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (35 kb)
Online Resource 1Design matrix for examining differential survival and performance between local and non-local soils. This graphic depicts how the five source soils were classified as local or non-local. Soils were considered local when seeds, which were collected from the same tree as the soil, were planted in that soil. Conversely, soils were considered non-local when seedlings collected from a different tree were planted in the soil. (PDF 34 kb)
11104_2011_992_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (46 kb)
Online Resource 2Matrix of survival of all seedling families in all five soils. The black bars represent survival in local soils and gray bars represent survival in non-local soils. The numbers on the y-axis are the percent survival in each soil. (PDF 46 kb)
11104_2011_992_MOESM3_ESM.doc (24 kb)
Online Resource 3Table of statistics showing all of the analyses, what they tested, their respective test statistic and their corresponding p-value or confidence interval. (DOC 24 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Solance Smith
    • 1
  • Jennifer A. Schweitzer
    • 2
    • 3
  • Philip Turk
    • 4
  • Joseph K. Bailey
    • 2
    • 3
  • Stephen C. Hart
    • 5
  • Stephen M. Shuster
    • 1
  • Thomas G. Whitham
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological Sciences and Merriam-Powell Center for Environmental ResearchNorthern Arizona UniversityFlagstaffUSA
  2. 2.Department of Ecology & Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA
  3. 3.School of Plant ScienceUniversity of TasmaniaHobartAustralia
  4. 4.Department of StatisticsWest Virginia UniversityMorgantownUSA
  5. 5.School of Natural Sciences and Sierra Nevada Research InstituteUniversity of CaliforniaMercedUSA

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