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The Story of a Species of Wheat Adapting to a New Environment

Paper Reviewed
Volis, S, Ormanbekova, D. and Yermekbayev, K. 2015. Role of phenotypic plasticity and population differentiation in adaptation to novel environmental conditions. Ecology and Evolution 5: 3818-3829.

Writing as background for their work, Volis et al. (2015) state that "species can adapt to new environmental conditions either through individual phenotypic plasticity, intraspecific genetic differentiation in adaptive traits, or both." And as an example of this fact, they focused their attention on wild emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccoides) -- an annual grass that has a major distribution in the Eastern Mediterranean region -- which they say "is predicted to experience in the near future, as a result of global climate change, conditions more arid than in any part of the current species distribution."

Continuing, the three researchers write that "to understand the role of the above two means of adaptation, and the effect of population range position," they studied "reaction norms, extent of plasticity, and phenotypic selection across two experimental environments of high and low water availability in two core and two peripheral populations of this species." More specifically, they say they studied "twelve quantitative traits, but focused primarily on the onset of reproduction and maternal investment," which traits "are closely related to fitness and presumably involved in local adaptation in the studied species." And what did they thereby learn?

Volis et al. report that they found the core population "to be the most plastic in all three trait categories (phenology, reproductive traits, and fitness)," as well as the most successful among the studied populations. And they thus concluded that (1) the two means of successful adaptation to new environmental conditions, phenotypic plasticity and adaptive genetic differentiation, "are not mutually exclusive ways of achieving high adaptive ability," and that (2) "colonists from some core populations can be more successful in establishing beyond the current species range than colonists from the range extreme periphery with conditions seemingly closest to those in the new environment."

Posted 8 January 2016