Plant chemical defence allocation constrains evolution of local range


David H. Siemens, Fax: +1 605 642 6762; E-mail:


Many species of plants in the wild are distributed spatially in patches, the boundaries of which may occur and change because of a complicated interplay between myriad environmental stressors and limitations of, or constraints on, plant coping mechanisms. By examining genetic variation and co-variation among marker-inferred inbred lines and sib-families of an upland wild mustard species within and just a few meters across a natural patch boundary, we show that the evolution of tolerance to the stressful environment outside the patch may be constrained by allocation to glucosinolate compounds (GS) that are defensive against generalist insect herbivores. Several potential stressors were associated with the patch boundary, but carbon isotope ratios indicated that sib-families with smaller stomatal apertures maintained performance better in response to late season dry conditions, suggesting that drought was an important stressor. The presence of GS may help explain the characteristic patchy distribution of mustards, a relatively diverse and important plant family. This result challenges one end of the continuum of the long-standing Plant Apparency hypothesis, which essentially states the opposite causation, that low molecular weight toxins like GS are evolutionary responses of patchy distributions and correlated life-history traits.