Variation in Capsella (shepherd’s purse): an example of intraspecific functional diversity




The extent of functional trait diversity is quantified for 157 different Capsella bursa-pastoris (L.) medic (shepherd’s purse) accessions. These individuals encompass replicate progeny generated from seed of 53 different Capsella‘maternal lines’ that were isolated at random as they emerged from soil cores (used to estimate baseline seed bank numbers and weed diversity) at 34 different arable sites across the United Kingdom. The replicate progeny were subject to ex situ characterisation for traits determining life history and architecture. Seven leaf-type classes were identified and representative parents of each leaf type were distinguishable using four different simple sequence repeat markers. Life-history traits were only loosely associated with leaf shape, and cluster analysis grouped the accessions into three broad types: small plants that flowered early with intermediate reproductive output; large plants, with intermediate time to flowering and a high reproductive output; late-flowering plants, of intermediate size and low reproductive output. The most common leaf-type variants (83% of accessions) demonstrated a short time to flowering (ca. 70 days), while rarer variants included those that flowered after 140 days, accumulated more nitrogen and produced less seed: possibly representing advantageous and disadvantageous traits (respectively), in modern arable rotations. A wide trait variation was therefore found in Capsella bursa-pastoris despite decades of agricultural intensification, the range of time-to-flowering for C. bursa-pastoris being as broad the mean flowering times of the commoner annual and winter annual arable species. We propose the use of traits, rather than species, as the accounting unit to quantify functional biodiversity in arable systems.