Assessment of quantitative and genetic molecular variation of Acacia karroo in two extreme populations

Bayonne Mboumba, Georges (Stellenbosch : University of Stellenbosch, 2006-03)

Thesis (MScConsEcol (Conservation Ecology and Entomology))--University of Stellenbosch, 2006.


Acacia karroo is widespread in southern Africa and displays remarkable phenotypic plasticity over its geographical range. However, it is currently unknown whether this phenomenon is merely phenotypic variation due to environmental variance or whether such plasticity represents adaptation to different habitats (known as adaptive phenotypic plasticity). Adaptive phenotypic plasticity implies that genotypes differ and that there is local adaptation to the local environment. To shed light on this phenomenon, we used a common-garden experiment to investigate among-population variation in plastic responses to simulated rainfall and browsing in two populations originating from contrasting environments, namely arid Karoo (Leeu Gamka) and subtropical coastal forest (Richards Bay). We also studied genetic variation among populations by means of allozyme markers. The results suggest that the populations investigated are both genetically distinct and phenotypically plastic. In addition, there were high levels of polymorphism within populations and great differences in their range of plastic responses to treatments. Of the two populations investigated, the slow-growing one (Leeu Gamka) was phenotypically more plastic with regard to defence-related traits (longer spines, more tannin) while the fast-growing one (Richards Bay) was phenotypically more plastic regarding growth-related traits (taller, with longer leaves). Patterns of performance revealed that the populations have pure strategies of either growth (forest) or defence (arid). The interactions between populations and environments in some traits indicated genetic differentiation in plastic responses between populations and, consequently, that phenotypic plasticity is locally adaptive and not merely due to environmental differences. The two populations appear to have pure strategies; when environmental conditions were improved by addition of water, the forest population increased investment in growth but not defence, while the arid populations increased defence production but not growth.

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