Artificial selection reveals high genetic variation in phenology at the trailing edge of a species range
Species’ responses to climate change depend on the interplay of migration and adaptation, yet we know relatively little about the potential for adaptation. Genetic adaptations to climate change often involve shifts in the timing of phenological events such as flowering. If populations at the edge of a species’ range have lower genetic variation in phenological traits than central populations, then their persistence under climate change could be threatened. To test this hypothesis, we performed artificial selection experiments using the scarlet monkeyflower (Mimulus cardinalis) to compare genetic variation in flowering time among populations at the latitudinal center, northern edge, and southern edge of the species’ range. We also assessed whether selection on flowering time yielded correlated responses in functional traits, potentially representing a cost associated with early or late flowering.
Contrary to prediction, southern populations exhibited greater responses to selection on flowering time than central or northern populations. Further, selection for early flowering resulted in correlated increases in specific leaf area and leaf nitrogen, whereas selection for late flowering led to decreases in these traits. These results provide critical insights about how spatial variation in the potential for adaptation may affect population persistence under changing climates.