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Local adaptation is of fundamental importance in evolutionary, population, conservation, and global-change biology. The generality of local adaptation in plants and whether and how it is influenced by specific species, population and habitat characteristics have, however, not been quantitatively reviewed. Therefore, we examined published data on the outcomes of reciprocal transplant experiments using two approaches. We conducted a meta-analysis to compare the performance of local and foreign plants at all transplant sites. In addition, we analysed frequencies of pairs of plant origin to examine whether local plants perform better than foreign plants at both compared transplant sites. In both approaches, we also examined the effects of population size, and of the habitat and species characteristics that are predicted to affect local adaptation. We show that, overall, local plants performed significantly better than foreign plants at their site of origin: this was found to be the case in 71.0% of the studied sites. However, local plants performed better than foreign plants at both sites of a pair-wise comparison (strict definition of local adaption) only in 45.3% of the 1032 compared population pairs. Furthermore, we found local adaptation much more common for large plant populations (>1000 flowering individuals) than for small populations (<1000 flowering individuals) for which local adaptation was very rare. The degree of local adaptation was independent of plant life history, spatial or temporal habitat heterogeneity, and geographic scale. Our results suggest that local adaptation is less common in plant populations than generally assumed. Moreover, our findings reinforce the fundamental importance of population size for evolutionary theory. The clear role of population size for the ability to evolve local adaptation raises considerable doubt on the ability of small plant populations to cope with changing environments.

Original publication

DOI

10.1371/journal.pone.0004010

Type

Journal article

Journal

PLoS One

Publication Date

2008

Volume

3

Keywords

Adaptation, Physiological, Biodiversity, Ecosystem, Genes, Plant, Geography, Mutation, Plant Physiological Phenomena, Population Density