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Gene flow limits adaptation along steep environmental gradients


Bachmann, Judith et al. (2019), Gene flow limits adaptation along steep environmental gradients, Dryad, Dataset,


When environmental variation is spatially continuous, dispersing individuals move among nearby sites with similar habitat conditions. But as an environmental gradient becomes steeper, gene flow may connect more divergent habitats, and this is predicted to reduce the slope of the adaptive cline that evolves. We compared quantitative genetic divergence of Rana temporaria frog populations along a 2000-m elevational gradient in eastern Switzerland (new experimental results) with divergence along a 1550-km latitudinal gradient in Fennoscandia (previously published results). Both studies found significant countergradient variation in larval development rate (i.e., animals from cold climates developed more rapidly). The cline was weaker with elevation than with latitude. Animals collected on both gradients were genotyped at ~2000 SNP markers, revealing that dispersal distance was 30% farther on the latitudinal gradient but 3.9 times greater with respect to environmental conditions on the elevational gradient. A meta-analysis on 19 experimental studies of anuran populations spanning temperature gradients revealed that countergradient variation in larval development, while significant overall, was weaker when measured on steeper gradients. These findings support the prediction that adaptive population divergence is less pronounced, and maladaptation more pervasive, on steep environmental gradients.