Maternal effects provide phenotypic adaptation to local environmental conditions


Author for correspondence: Laura F. Galloway Tel: +1 434 982 5010 Fax: +1 434 982 5626 Email:


In outcrossing plants, seed dispersal distance is often less than pollen movement. If the scale of environmental heterogeneity within a population is greater than typical seed dispersal distances but less than pollen movement, an individual's environment will be similar to that of its mother but not necessarily its father. Under these conditions, environmental maternal effects may evolve as a source of adaptive plasticity between generations, enhancing offspring fitness in the environment that they are likely to experience. This idea is illustrated using Campanula americana, an herb that grows in understory and light-gap habitats. Estimates of seed dispersal suggest that offspring typically experience the same light environment as their mother. In a field experiment testing the effect of open vs understory maternal light environments, maternal light directly influenced offspring germination rate and season, and indirectly affected germination season by altering maternal flowering time. Results to date indicate that these maternal effects are adaptive; further experimental tests are ongoing. Evaluating maternal environmental effects in an ecological context demonstrates that they may provide phenotypic adaptation to local environmental conditions.