Differentiation along a gradient of environmental productivity and predictability in populations of Hordeum spontaneum Koch: Multilevel selection analysis
A contextual analysis combined with path analysis was applied to detect ecotype-specific past selection in hierarchically structured populations of wild barley, Hordeum spontaneum. In our analysis a multiple regression model incorporated several individual and ecotype-level unmeasured (derived) traits obtained by factor analysis from 20 measured morphological and phenological traits. Under favourable conditions (high water and nutrients) both individual and ecotype plant size (RF1) were significant predictors of individual plant fitness, estimated by either reproductive biomass or yield. Both individual and ecotype size of reproductive structures (RF2) were significantly related to individual reproductive biomass. Individual yield, however, significantly correlated with ecotype RF2 only. Transition to reproduction (RF3) correlated with neither reproductive biomass nor yield at individual level, but correlated with two estimates of fitness at ecotype level. In all cases, selection at the individual and ecotype levels was in opposition. We interpret the observed effect of ecotype identity on individual fitness not as a current group selection, but as a constraining effect of ecotype-specific past selection. The four ecotypes went through an environmentally specific selection process in their own environments with the optimal strategy evolved. Consequently, this strategy may have a constraining effect on plant performance in other environments. Under conditions of either low water or low nutrients the ecotype level did not contribute to individual fitness. The latter may suggest that a mechanism for plant responses to stress is largely independent of plant origin, with a difference between ecotypes under stressful conditions due entirely to the difference in amount, not architecture, of plasticity. © 2002 The Linnean Society of London.