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Using ecological context to interpret spatiotemporal variation in natural selection

Cite this dataset

Albertsen, Elena et al. (2020). Using ecological context to interpret spatiotemporal variation in natural selection [Dataset]. Dryad.


Spatiotemporal variation in natural selection is expected, but difficult to estimate. Pollinator-mediated selection on floral traits provides a good system for understanding and linking variation in selection to differences in ecological context. We studied pollinator-mediated selection in five populations of Dalechampia scandens (Euphorbiaceae) in Costa Rica and Mexico. Using a nonlinear path-analytical approach, we assessed several functional components of selection, and linked variation in pollinator-mediated selection across time and space to variation in pollinator assemblages. After correcting for estimation error, we detected moderate variation in net selection on two of four blossom traits. Both the opportunity for selection and the mean strength of selection decreased with increasing reliability of cross-pollination. Selection for pollinator attraction was consistently positive and stronger on advertisement than reward traits. Selection on traits affecting pollen transfer from the pollinator to the stigmas was strong only when there was a mismatch between pollinator and blossom size under unreliable cross-pollination. These results illustrate how consideration of trait function and ecological context can facilitate both the detection and the causal understanding of spatiotemporal variation in natural selection.


We studied phenotypic selection on the blossom traits in five populations, three in Costa Rica (Palo Verde, Puente la Amistad and Horizontes) and two in Mexico (La Mancha and Puerto Morelos). Both Mexican populations and one Costa Rican population were studied in two consecutive years. The data from the La Mancha population in 2007 were analyzed by Pérez-Barrales et al. (2013). In each population, we marked distinct patches of one to several intertwined individuals. Plants flower for an extended period, and we selected multiple blossoms per patch as they came into flower.

We followed each focal blossom throughout the female phase and for the first day of the bisexual phase. Each day, we recorded the number of pollen grains on the three stigmas with the aid of a LED light and a 10× hand lens, and whether resin had been collected. On the first day of the bisexual phase, when the first male flower was open, we counted pollen on the stigmas one last time, and measured gland-stigma distance (GSD), anther-stigma distance (ASD), gland area (GA), and upper bract area (UBA). All distance traits were measured in mm using digital calipers. For the Costa Rican populations, we also measured the height of the blossom above the ground. After completing the measurements, we marked the blossoms with a small tag tied around the peduncle. We collected the marked blossoms 3-4 weeks later and recorded the number of seeds set (seed set).


Usage notes

Description of the column names in the datafile:

UBA = upper-bract area, units in mm

GA = gland area, units in mm

GSD = gland-stigma distance, units in mm

GAD = gland-anther distance, units in mm

ASD = anther-stigma distance, units in mm

GW = gland width, units in mm

GHl = gland height measured on the left side of the gland, units in mm

GHr = gland height measured on the right side of the gland, units in mm

UBL = upper bract length, units in mm

UBW = upper bract width, units in mm

pop = population

year = year of sampling

ID = order in which measurements were made

date = date of measurement (yr-mth-day)

patch = patch ID

Blossom = blossom number within the patch

stage = how many male flowers were open during measurement (M1 = one male flower open)

pollenfem = pollen load counted on the stigma during the female phase

polltotal/pollen = pollen load counted on the stigma during the first day of the bisexual phase

pollenmale = pollentot – pollenfem

resin = whether or not (0 or 1) resin has been removed from the gland

seeds_GH = seeds that can be sown

seeds_undeveloped = smaller pale seeds that were collected before fully developed

seeds_pred = seeds with signs of predation

total_seeds = seeds_GH + seeds_undeveloped + seeds_pred



Not all variables mentioned above appear in all datafiles.

For logistical reasons we could not collect seeds at the Puerto Morelos site. 



The Research Council of Norway, Award: 223257