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Odontarrhena serpyllifolia (Desf.) Jord. & Fourr. (=Alyssum serpyllifolium Desf.) occurs in the Iberian Peninsula and adjacent areas on a variety of soils including both limestone and serpentine (ultramafic) substrates. Populations endemic to serpentine are known to hyperaccumulate nickel, and on account of this remarkable phenotype have, at times, been proposed for recognition as taxonomically distinct subspecies or even species. It remains unclear, however, to what extent variation in nickel hyperaccumulation within this taxon merely reflects differences in the substrate, or whether the different populations show local adaptation to their particular habitats. To help clarify the physiological basis of variation in nickel hyperaccumulation among these populations, 3 serpentine accessions and 3 limestone accessions were cultivated hydroponically under common-garden conditions incorporating a range of Ni concentrations, along with 2 closely related non-accumulator species, Clypeola jonthlaspi L. and Alyssum montanum L. As a group, serpentine accessions of O. serpyllifolia were able to tolerate Ni concentrations approximately 10-fold higher than limestone accessions, but a continuous spectrum of Ni tolerance was observed among populations, with the least tolerant serpentine accession not being significantly different from the most tolerant limestone accession. Serpentine accessions maintained relatively constant tissue concentrations of Ca, Mg, K, and Fe across the whole range of Ni exposures, whereas in the limestone accessions, these elements fluctuated widely in response to Ni toxicity. Hyperaccumulation of Ni, defined here as foliar Ni concentrations exceeding 1g kg-1 of dry biomass in plants not showing significant growth reduction, occurred in all accessions of O. serpyllifolia, but the higher Ni tolerance of serpentine accessions allowed them to hyperaccumulate more strongly. Of the reference species, C. jonthlaspi responded similarly to the limestone accessions of O. serpyllifolia, whereas A. montanum displayed by far the lowest degree of Ni tolerance and exhibited low foliar Ni concentrations, which only exceeded 1 g kg-1 in plants showing severe Ni toxicity. The continuous spectrum of physiological responses among these accessions does not lend support to segregation of the serpentine populations of O. serpyllifolia as distinct species. However, the pronounced differences in degrees of Ni tolerance, hyperaccumulation, and elemental homeostasis observed among these accessions under common-garden conditions argues for the existence of population-level adaptation to their local substrates.

Original publication




Journal article


Plants (Basel)

Publication Date





Alyssum, Odontarrhena, facultative hyperaccumulator, hyperaccumulation, metal tolerance, nickel, serpentine, ultramafic