Uncommon Ground

Trait-climate evolution in Protea

Protea compacta

If you’re reading this post, you know that my colleagues and I have been studying Protea for more than a decade. A lot of our work has focused on documenting and understanding trait-environment associations. We’ve studied those associations both among populations within species (Protea repens: https://doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcv146), among populations within a small, closely related clade (Protea sect. Exsertae: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1558-5646.2010.01131.x and https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1420-9101.2012.02548.x), and across the entire genus (https://doi.org/10.1086/680051). But all of those studies look at the relationship between the climate as it is now (as reflected in the South African Atlas of Agrohydrology and Climatology). They haven’t examined how traits have evolved in response to changes in climate.

Our latest paper, begins to address that shortcoming. We use the highly resolved phylogeny of Protea that Nora Mitchell constructed as part of her dissertation (http://darwin.eeb.uconn.edu/uncommon-ground/blog/2017/01/23/a-new-phylogeny-for-protea/ and https://doi.org/10.3732/ajb.1600227), and we reconstruct estimates of how traits changed over evolutionary time in concert (or not) with climates. Our reconstructions depend on particular models of evolutionary change, and we explore several alternatives. Here’s the abstract:

Evolutionary radiations are responsible for much of Earth’s diversity, yet the causes of these radiations are often elusive. Determining the relative roles of adaptation and geographic isolation in diversification is vital to understanding the causes of any radiation, and whether a radiation may be labeled as “adaptive” or not. Across many groups of plants, trait–climate relationships suggest that traits are an important indicator of how plants adapt to different climates. In particular, analyses of plant functional traits in global databases suggest that there is an “economics spectrum” along which combinations of functional traits covary along a fast–slow continuum. We examine evolutionary associations among traits and between trait and climate variables on a strongly supported phylogeny in the iconic plant genus Protea to identify correlated evolution of functional traits and the climatic-niches that species occupy. Results indicate that trait diversification in Protea has climate associations along two axes of variation: correlated evolution of plant size with temperature and leaf investment with rainfall. Evidence suggests that traits and climatic-niches evolve in similar ways, although some of these associations are inconsistent with global patterns on a broader phylogenetic scale. When combined with previous experimental work suggesting that trait–climate associations are adaptive in Protea, the results presented here suggest that trait diversification in this radiation is adaptive.

Mitchell, N., J.E. Carlson, and K.E. Holsinger.  2018.  Correlated evolution between climate and suites of traits along a fast–slow continuum in the radiation of Protea. Ecology and Evolution 8:1853–1866. doi: 10.1002/ece3.3773.

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