Testing for local adaptation in Avena barbata: a classic example of ecotypic divergence


  • Robert Latta’s main research focus is to understand the genetic basis of fitness variation in natural populations. He has been intrigued by the Avena barbata system ever since reading the original studies as an undergraduate, and adopted it as a study system in which RILs could be easily created. Other aspects of this work address the role of genetic correlations, hybridization and recombination, dominance and epistasis, phenotypic plasticity, physiological ecology and transgressive segregation in determining the fitness and niche breadth of genotypes.

Robert G. Latta, Fax: +1 902 494 3736; E-mail : robert.latta@dal.ca


Forty years ago, Robert Allard and colleagues documented that the slender wild oat, Avena barbata, occurred in California as two multi-locus allozyme genotypes, associated with mesic and xeric habitats. This is arguably the first example of ecotypes identified by molecular techniques. Despite widespread citation, however, the inference of local adaptation of these ecotypes rested primarily on the allozyme pattern. This study tests for local adaptation of these ecotypes using reciprocal transplant and quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping techniques. Both ecotypes and 188 recombinant inbred lines (RILs) derived from a cross between them were grown in common garden plots established at two sites representative of the environments in which the ecotypes were first described. Across four growing seasons at each site, three observations consistently emerged. First, despite significant genotype by environment interaction, the mesic ecotype consistently showed higher lifetime reproductive success across all years and sites. Second, the RILs showed no evidence of a trade-off in performance across sites or years, and fitness was positively correlated across environments. Third, at QTL affecting lifetime reproductive success, selection favoured the same allele in all environments. None of these observations are consistent with local adaptation but suggest that a single genotype is selectively favoured at both moist and dry sites. I propose an alternative hypothesis that A. barbata may be an example of contemporary evolution – whereby the favoured genotype is spreading and increasing in frequency – rather than local adaptation.