Regional and Ecotype Traits in Lotus corniculatus L., with Reference to Restoration Ecology


Address correspondence to B. M. Smith, email


To assess the relative importance of distance (geographical or ecological) as a consideration when collecting seeds for restoration projects, there is a need for more research on regional and ecotypic variation in a range of species. We used Lotus corniculatus L., a legume frequently included in grassland seed mixes, to investigate phenotypic variation between British accessions in a common garden experiment. The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of seed origin on plant phenotype and fecundity and to determine whether there was any evidence of correlation with distance (geographical or ecological) in populations grown from seed collected from different locations. Regional differences were detected in plant size, growth habit, pubescence, leaf shape, and fecundity. Geographical distance between sites was shown to be positively correlated with an increased difference in seed yield. Differences in size, growth habit, and leaf shape between paired habitats of origin within region and also between “ecotypes” were evident. However, there was no correlation between ecological distance and any of the measured traits. These findings suggest that:

  • 1Differences in phenotype and fecundity between geographically separated populations of L. corniculatus may be sufficient to lead to differences in survival and fitness when seeds are sown in a restoration environment.
  • 2Although it is important to consider geographical location, the choice of habitat within region is also important because phenotypic variation between ecotypes may have long-term consequences for plant persistence.