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Conflicting selection from fire and seed predation drives fine-scaled phenotypic variation in a widespread North American conifer

Author(s): Matt V. Talluto, Craig W. Benkman
Year Published: 2014

Recent work has demonstrated that evolutionary processes shape ecological dynamics on relatively short timescales (eco-evolutionary dynamics), but demonstrating these effects at large spatial scales in natural landscapes has proven difficult. We used empirical studies and modeling to investigate how selective pressures from fire and predispersal seed predation affect the evolution of serotiny, an ecologically important trait. Serotiny is a highly heritable key reproductive trait in Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta subsp. latifolia), a conifer that dominates millions of hectares in western North America. In these forests, the frequency of serotiny determines postfire seedling density with corresponding community- and ecosystem-level effects. We found that serotinous individuals have a selective advantage at high fire frequencies and low predation pressure; however, very high seed predation shifted the selective advantage to nonserotinous individuals even at high fire frequencies. Simulation modeling suggests that spatial variation in the frequency of serotiny results from heterogeneity in these two selective agents. These results, combined with previous findings showing a negative association between the density of seed predators and the frequency of serotiny at both landscape and continental scales, demonstrate that contemporary patterns in serotiny reflect an evolutionary response to conflicting selection pressures from fire and seed predation. Thus, we show that variation in the frequency of a heritable polygenic trait depends on spatial variation in two dominant selective agents, and, importantly, the effects of the local trait variation propagate with profound consequences to the structure and function of communities and ecosystems across a large landscape.

Citation: Talluto, Matthew V.; Benkman, Craig W. 2014. Conflicting selection from fire and seed predation drives fine-scaled phenotypic variation in a widespread North American conifer. PNAS 111(26):9543-9548.
Topic(s): Fire Ecology, Fire Effects, Ecological - Second Order, Vegetation, Wildlife, Fire & Wildlife, Mammals, Rodents
Ecosystem(s): Subalpine wet spruce-fir forest, Subalpine dry spruce-fir forest, Montane wet mixed-conifer forest, Montane dry mixed-conifer forest
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 12964
FRAMES RCS number: 17641
Record updated: Mar 20, 2018