Population Differentiation in Solidago virgaurea along Altitudinal Gradients

Sammanfattning: Altitudinal gradients offer attractive opportunities for studies of population differentiation in response to environmental heterogeneity. In this thesis, I examined population differentiation along altitudinal gradients by combining common-garden experiments with field studies and experiments in alpine, subalpine and boreal populations of the perennial herb Solidago virgaurea. More specifically, I determined whether leaf physiology in terms of nitrogen concentration and resorption, flowering phenology, flower production and reproductive effort vary along altitudinal gradients. Nitrogen concentration in green leaves were higher in alpine than in subalpine and boreal populations. These differences persisted when plants were grown from seeds in a common-garden experiment at two sites, suggesting that the differences have a genetic component. There was mixed support for a trade-off between maximized carbon gain through the maintenance of high nitrogen concentration, and minimized nitrogen loss through high resorption. In their natural habitats alpine populations began flowering later than subalpine populations, but this difference was reversed when plants were grown in a common environment. This suggests that genetic differences among populations counteract environmental effects and reduce phenotypic variation in flowering time among populations. Flowering time thus shows countergradient genetic variation in S. virgaurea. In a common-garden experiment, boreal populations produced more flowers and had a higher reproductive effort than subalpine and alpine populations indicating habitat-specific genetic differences in reproductive allocation. In a field study, which included three populations, seed set was close to zero in the alpine population, intermediate in the subalpine population, and high in the boreal population. Experimental flower removal showed that seed production was associated with a considerable cost in terms of reduced flowering propensity the following year, but did not support the hypothesis that a large floral display is important for pollination success.