Environmentally induced development costs underlie fitness tradeoffs

Greg M. Walter, Melanie J. Wilkinson, J. David Aguirre, Mark W. Blows, Daniel Ortiz-Barrientos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Local adaptation can lead to genotype-by-environment interactions, which can create fitness tradeoffs in alternative environments, and govern the distribution of biodiversity across geographic landscapes. Exploring the ecological circumstances that promote the evolution of fitness tradeoffs requires identifying how natural selection operates and during which ontogenetic stages natural selection is strongest. When organisms disperse to areas outside their natural range, tradeoffs might emerge when organisms struggle to reach key life history stages, or alternatively, die shortly after reaching life history stages if there are greater risks of mortality associated with costs to developing in novel environments. We used multiple populations from four ecotypes of an Australian native wildflower (Senecio pinnatifolius) in reciprocal transplants to explore how fitness tradeoffs arise across ontogeny. We then assessed whether the survival probability for plants from native and foreign populations was contingent on reaching key developmental stages. We found that fitness tradeoffs emerged as ontogeny progressed when native plants were more successful than foreign plants at reaching seedling establishment and maturity. Native and foreign plants that failed to reach seedling establishment died at the same rate, but plants from foreign populations died quicker than native plants after reaching seedling establishment, and died quicker regardless of whether they reached sexual maturity or not. Development rates were similar for native and foreign populations, but changed depending on the environment. Together, our results suggest that natural selection for environment-specific traits early in life history created tradeoffs between contrasting environments. Plants from foreign populations were either unable to develop to seedling establishment, or they suffered increased mortality as a consequence of reaching seedling establishment. The observation of tradeoffs together with environmentally dependent changes in development rate suggest that foreign environments induce organisms to develop at a rate different from their native habitat, incurring consequences for lifetime fitness and population divergence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1391-1401
Number of pages11
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • adaptation
  • development
  • divergence
  • heterogeneous landscape
  • natural selection
  • ontogeny
  • tradeoff

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