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Understanding the importance of intrapopulation functional variability and phenotypic plasticity in Quercus suber


Climate is one of the main abiotic factors influencing natural selection patterns. Year-to-year variation in climate is postulated to elicit temporal shifts in the direction and form of selection. Here, we examine the importance of trait means and plasticities for fitness under interannual variation in rainfall and assess the shifts in selection in cork oak. We performed selection analyses using the progeny of 45 mother trees established in a common garden experiment across two consecutive years that differed in rainfall. Growth and seven functional traits (specific leaf area, leaf size, leaf shape traits, 13-carbon isotope discrimination, and leaf nitrogen) related to drought tolerance were measured. Selection analyses showed fitness benefits of reduced specific leaf area (SLA) in a dry year and increased leaf size in a mesic year, indicating that they are key traits for this evergreen oak to cope with different water availabilities. SLA and leaf size were also particularly plastic traits, but the adaptive significance of plasticity could not be confirmed. The absence of correlation between growth across years using family means and the absence of correlations between SLA and leaf size suggested that fluctuating selection over time favored different maternal families under different annual weather conditions, which could promote functional diversity within populations in this long-lived species.

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We are grateful to Pedro Fernández, Laura Castro, Regina Chambel, José María Climent, Pilar Jiménez, and everyone from the Forestry School of Madrid who collaborated in the setting up of the cork oak common gardens under the EU-concerted action on cork oak, FAIR I CT 95 0202. We would like to thank Salustiano Iglesias and the DGB for the maintenance of the assays. We thank Santiago de Blas, José Antonio Mancha, and other field assistants for their help during the experiment. We are also grateful to Nick Deacon for the English revision and comments of the final version of the manuscript. This work was funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science (PLASTOFOR, AGL-00536/FOR, and REMEDINAL). This study was also supported by the postdoctoral Gonzalez Esparcia scholarship to JARV.

Data archiving statement

Phenotypic data will be archived in the DRYAD. JARV has already registered, and the dataset will be submitted using his personal account in case the manuscript is considered for publication.

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Correspondence to J. A. Ramírez-Valiente.

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This article is part of the Topical Collection on Adaptation

Communicated by A. Kremer

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Ramírez-Valiente, J.A., Valladares, F., Delgado, A. et al. Understanding the importance of intrapopulation functional variability and phenotypic plasticity in Quercus suber . Tree Genetics & Genomes 11, 35 (2015).

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  • Fluctuating selection
  • Adaptive plasticity
  • Genetic diversity
  • Canalization