Adaptive divergence in seed color camouflage in contrasting soil environments



  • Although adaptive plant population divergence across contrasting soil conditions is often driven by abiotic soil factors, natural enemies may also contribute. Cryptic matching to the native soil color is a form of defensive camouflage that seeds can use to avoid detection by seed predators.

  • The legume Acmispon wrangelianus occurs across a variety of gray–green serpentine soils and brown nonserpentine soils. Quantitative digital image analysis of seed and soil colors was used to test whether genetically based seed color is a closer match to the color of the native soil than to the color of other nearby soils.

  • Lineages bear seeds that more closely match the color of their native serpentine or nonserpentine soil type than the opposing soil type. Further, even within a soil type, lineages bear seeds with a closer color match to the soil at their native site than to other sites.

  • The striking concordance between seed and native soil color suggests that natural selection for locally camouflaged seed color morphs, probably driven by seed predators, may maintain adaptive divergence in pigmentation, despite the opportunity for migration between soil environments.