• clinal variation;
  • FST vs. QST;
  • life history;
  • local adaptation;
  • microsatellite;
  • population genetics


In plants, ecologically important life history traits often display clinal patterns of population divergence. Such patterns can provide strong evidence for spatially varying selection across environmental gradients but also may result from nonselective processes, such as genetic drift, population bottlenecks and spatially restricted gene flow. Comparison of population differentiation in quantitative traits (measured as QST) with neutral molecular markers (measured as FST) provides a useful tool for understanding the relative importance of adaptive and nonadaptive processes in the formation and maintenance of clinal variation. Here, we demonstrate the existence of geographic variation in key life history traits in the diploid perennial sunflower species Helianthus maximiliani across a broad latitudinal transect in North America. Strong population differentiation was found for days to flowering, growth rate and multiple size-related traits. Differentiation in these traits greatly exceeds neutral predictions, as determined both by partial Mantel tests and by comparisons of global QST values with theoretical FST distributions. These findings indicate that clinal variation in these life history traits likely results from local adaptation driven by spatially heterogeneous environments.