Evidence of climate-driven selection on tree traits and trait plasticity across the climatic range of a riparian foundation species

Hillary F. Cooper, Rebecca J. Best, Lela V. Andrews, Jaclyn P.M. Corbin, Iris Garthwaite, Kevin C. Grady, Catherine A. Gehring, Kevin R. Hultine, Thomas G. Whitham, Gerard J. Allan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Selection on quantitative traits by heterogeneous climatic conditions can lead to substantial trait variation across a species range. In the context of rapidly changing environments, however, it is equally important to understand selection on trait plasticity. To evaluate the role of selection in driving divergences in traits and their associated plasticities within a widespread species, we compared molecular and quantitative trait variation in Populus fremontii (Fremont cottonwood), a foundation riparian distributed throughout Arizona. Using SNP data and genotypes from 16 populations reciprocally planted in three common gardens, we first performed QST-FST analyses to detect selection on traits and trait plasticity. We then explored the environmental drivers of selection using trait-climate and plasticity-climate regressions. Three major findings emerged: (1) There was significant genetic variation in traits expressed in each of the common gardens and in the phenotypic plasticity of traits across gardens, both of which were heritable. (2) Based on QST-FST comparisons, there was evidence of selection in all traits measured; however, this result varied from no effect in one garden to highly significant in another, indicating that detection of past selection is environmentally dependent. We also found strong evidence of divergent selection on plasticity across environments for two traits. (3) Traits and/or their plasticity were often correlated with population source climate (R2 up to.77 and.66, respectively). These results suggest that steep climate gradients across the Southwest have played a major role in shaping the evolution of divergent phenotypic responses in populations and genotypes now experiencing climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5024-5040
Number of pages17
JournalMolecular ecology
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 2022


  • Populus fremontii
  • Q-F
  • climate change
  • divergent selection
  • local adaptation
  • phenotypic plasticity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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