•  aerenchyma;
  • carbohydrate storage;
  • clonal plant;
  • flooding;
  • local adaptation;
  • microevolution;
  • phenotypic plasticity;
  • Ranunculus


  • 1
    Plant species are known to segregate along small-scale flooding gradients. We tested whether differences in flooding duration can also result in genetic differentiation in the clonal species Ranunculus reptans, which naturally grows in both a lakeside microhabitat and a landside microhabitat with shorter periods of flooding.
  • 2
    We compared traits related to fitness, and clonal life-history traits, of 432 plants representing nine genotypes from each microhabitat, grown without flooding or with short or long flooding duration. We also determined aerenchyma contents and carbohydrate use efficiencies during flooding in plants of these 18 genotypes.
  • 3
    In the flooding treatments, genotypes from the lakeside microhabitat produced significantly more rosettes and rooted rosettes than genotypes from the landside microhabitat. This indicates small-scale local adaptation to flooding duration in R. reptans.
  • 4
    Unexpectedly, genotypes from the landside microhabitat had a higher proportion of aerenchyma in their roots than those from the lakeside microhabitat. Carbohydrate use efficiency was high in all genotypes. These physiological traits cannot therefore explain the observed local adaptation.
  • 5
    Genotypes from the lakeside microhabitat produced shorter stolon internodes than genotypes from the landside microhabitat when flooded. Moreover, in the treatment with long flooding duration, there was selection for reduced stolon internode lengths, which might help to reduce respiratory losses. This suggests that local adaptation is a consequence of differences in plasticity of internode length.
  • 6
    Our results indicate an important role for flooding in plant microevolution by demonstrating that variation in flooding duration can induce intraspecific specialization even within populations. Physiological traits that determine differences in flooding tolerance between species do not, however, seem to have played a key role in this differentiation.