Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Plant Biology

First Advisor

Jane Molofsky


Understanding the strategies that plant populations implement to increase evolutionary responsiveness to better survive environmental changes induced by climate change is a critical challenge for ecology and evolutionary studies. This dissertation investigates the role of hybridization, local adaptation, and phenotypic plasticity in plant population responses to environmental change. Specifically, I utilized meta-analysis techniques to investigate the prevalence of local adaptation and phenotypic plasticity as the two main mechanisms used to adapt to heterogeneous environments, and experimentally explored the genetic pathway of plasticity in phenology traits such as bolting time in Arabidopsis thaliana under high temperatures. Furthermore, A. thaliana was used to create artificial hybrids to test if novel trait combinations allow hybrids to outperform their parental source in novel and stressful environments.

In the second chapter, I included reciprocal transplant plant studies and found that local adaptation is more common than adaptive plasticity as an evolutionary response to environmental heterogeneity. Although local adaptation was more common, plastic responses have been reported as a mechanism to tolerate increases in global temperature; however, the underlying genetic and developmental mechanisms are only starting to be elucidated. To address this, the third chapter determined whether alternative splicing of the ambient temperature flowering pathway gene FLOWERING LOCUS-M (FLM), and expression of SHORT VEGETATIVE PHASE (SVP), can explain flowering time plasticity in ecotypes of A. thaliana under 18°C and 26°C. Although the expression of SVP and FLM-β tracks reaction norms, I failed to find evidence that alternative FLM splicing plays a role in phenotypic plasticity in intraspecific flowering time variation.

Intraspecific hybridization (admixture) disrupts divergent genetic architectures between populations to generate phenotypic novelty and raw material for environmental selection to act upon. In order to understand the effect of this disruption to local adaptation of A. thaliana ecotypes separated along geographic and locally adaptive genetic distances, the fourth chapter used experimentally created F1-hybrids between geographically distant ecotypes, and used single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) data to estimate (putatively neutral) background and adaptive genetic distances. My results suggest that disruption of locally adaptive genomic loci decreases the performance of offspring between distantly related parents, but that crosses between very closely related parents also reduce performance, suggesting that during admixture selection may have to balance the consequences of disrupting local adaption while also avoiding inbreeding depression. Lastly, I examined the effect of recombination events under limiting and novel growing conditions (i.e. drought, high temperatures, and freezing field over-wintering conditions) in A. thaliana F2-hybrids. I provide empirical data for the effect of limiting growing environment on phenology, growth, and fitness traits on the admixed and parental ecotypes. I found that recombination events generate novel phenotypes. Generally, offspring phenotypic variation increases and shifts from the parental ecotype phenotypes, and in some cases, offspring display transgressive segregation, heterosis, or outbreeding depression. This work provides a novel contribution towards understanding mechanisms that plant implement to deal with rapid environmental changes. Specifically, plastic responses and hybridization events may interplay to maintain and increase genotypic diversity.



Number of Pages

219 p.

Included in

Evolution Commons