The long term success of revegetation efforts will depend upon the planted species’ resilience to climate change. Many widespread species grow across a range of climatic conditions and, thus, may possess adaptations that could be utilised to improve climate resilience of restored ecosystems. Species can achieve a widespread distribution via two main mechanisms; (1) by diverging into a series of specialised populations, or (2) through high phenotypic plasticity. The extent to which populations are specialised or plastic in response to climate will determine the seed-sourcing strategy required for optimal restoration outcomes under a changing climate. We examined genetic divergence and phenotypic plasticity in two widespread Eucalyptus species (E. tricarpa in southeastern Australia, E. salubris in southwestern Australia), to determine the nature of adaptation to climate in these species, and whether genomic screening might be a useful tool to assess climate adaptation.
We examined nine populations of each species across climate gradients and, for E. tricarpa, trees originating from the same populations were also studied in two common garden field trials. We characterised responses in functional traits relevant to climate adaptation, including leaf size, thickness, tissue density, and carbon isotope ratio (δ13C). Genetic variation was assessed with genome scans using DArTseq markers, and ‘outlier markers’ were identified as being linked to regions of the genome that are potentially under selection.
Evidence of both plastic response and genetic specialisation for climate was found in both species, indicating that widespread eucalypts utilise a combination of both mechanisms for adaptation to spatial variation in climate. The E. tricarpa common garden data suggested high plasticity in most of the measured functional traits, and the extent of plasticity in some traits (e.g. leaf size and thickness) varied among provenances, suggesting genetic variation for plasticity itself. In E. salubris, most functional traits showed little variation across the gradient. However, water use efficiency appeared highly plastic, as determined from the strong correlation between δ13C and recent precipitation (R2 = 0.83). Both species showed spatial partitioning of genetic variation across the gradient, and data for E. salubris revealed two distinct lineages. The genome scans yielded 16,122 DArTseq markers for “Lineage 1” of E. salubris, of which 0.1% were potentially adaptive ‘outlier loci’, and 6,544 markers for E. tricarpa, of which 2.6% were outliers. Canonical Analysis of Principal Coordinates (CAP) analysis showed that the outlier markers were correlated with climatic variables, and some were also strongly correlated with functional traits. An ‘Aridity Index’ was also developed from the CAP analysis that has potential as a tool for environmental planners to use for matching seed sources to target climates.
Widespread eucalypts are likely to possess a capacity to respond plastically to a changing climate to some extent, but selection of seed sources to match projected climate changes may confer even greater climate resilience. Further study of the mechanisms of plasticity in response to climate may improve our ability to assess climate adaptation in other species, and to determine optimal strategies for ecosystem restoration and management under climate change.