Patterns of Differentiation in Wiregrass (Aristida beyrichiana): Implications for Restoration Efforts



Aristida beyrichiana (wiregrass) is increasingly being planted in restoration projects across the southeastern coastal plain, with little focus on genetic differences among populations across the region. Local and regional population differentiation for establishment and growth traits were examined in common garden and reciprocal transplant experiments. Seeds from up to 20 plants from each of seven populations were collected in northern and central Florida sites that encompassed gradients of soils, hydrology, and temperature. Reciprocal seed transplants using three of the common garden populations were conducted in two consecutive years. In the common garden, significant population differences were seen in seed weight, seedling emergence and survival, tiller height, number of tillers, the relationship between tiller number and tiller height, and flowering. Variation among maternal families was seen in tiller number and in the relationship between tiller number and tiller height. The reciprocal transplant study did not detect either local adaptation to sites of origin or consistent superiority of one source population or planting site in seedling establishment. These results suggest that the probability of seedling establishment is primarily dependent on environmental conditions rather than genetic differences. Genetic variation for traits related to fitness (e.g., tiller number) may be retained within populations because phenotypically plastic growth responses of seedlings to environmental variation buffer genetic variation against the action of selection. But despite the lack of evidence for genetic influences on initial establishment in wiregrass, our common garden study suggests genetic differences among populations. This result, when combined with previous results indicating local adaptation in later life stages of wiregrass, suggests that restoration efforts involving this species should use local seed sources from sites with similar soil and hydrological conditions.