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Strong patterns of intraspecific variation and local adaptation in Great Basin plants revealed through a review of 75 years of experiments


Owen W. Baughman
Alison C. Agneray
Matthew L. Forister
Erin K. Espeland
Rob Fiegener
Matthew E. Horning
Richard C. Johnson
Thomas N. Kaye
Elizabeth A. Leger



Publication type:

Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Primary Station(s):

Rocky Mountain Research Station


Ecology and Evolution. 9: 6259-6275.


Variation in natural selection across heterogeneous landscapes often produces (a) among‐population differences in phenotypic traits, (b) trait‐by‐environment associations, and (c) higher fitness of local populations. Using a broad literature review of common garden studies published between 1941 and 2017, we documented the commonness of these three signatures in plants native to North America's Great Basin, an area of extensive restoration and revegetation efforts, and asked which traits and environmental variables were involved. We also asked, independent of geographic distance, whether populations from more similar environments had more similar traits. From 327 experiments testing 121 taxa in 170 studies, we found 95.1% of 305 experiments reported among‐population differences, and 81.4% of 161 experiments reported trait‐by‐environment associations. Locals showed greater survival in 67% of 24 reciprocal experiments that reported survival, and higher fitness in 90% of 10 reciprocal experiments that reported reproductive output. A meta‐analysis on a subset of studies found that variation in eight commonly measured traits was associated with mean annual precipitation and mean annual temperature at the source location, with notably strong relationships for flowering phenology, leaf size, and survival, among others. Although the Great Basin is sometimes perceived as a region of homogeneous ecosystems, our results demonstrate widespread habitat‐related population differentiation and local adaptation. Locally sourced plants likely harbor adaptations at rates and magnitudes that are immediately relevant to restoration success, and our results suggest that certain key traits and environmental variables should be prioritized in future assessments of plants in this region.


Baughman, Owen W.; Agneray, Alison C.; Forister, Matthew L.; Kilkenny, Francis F.; Espeland, Erin K.; Fiegener, Rob; Horning, Matthew E.; Johnson, Richard C.; Kaye, Thomas N.; Ott, Jeff; St. Clair, John Bradley; Leger, Elizabeth A. 2019. Strong patterns of intraspecific variation and local adaptation in Great Basin plants revealed through a review of 75 years of experiments. Ecology and Evolution. 9: 6259-6275.


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