To determine the evolutionary importance of parental environmental effects in natural populations, we must begin to measure the magnitude of these effects in the field. For this reason, we conducted a combined growth chamber–field experiment to measure parental temperature effects in Plantago lanceolata. We grew in the field offspring of controlled crosses of chamber-grown parents subjected to six temperature treatments. Each treatment was characterized by a unique combination of maternal prezygotic (prior to fertilization), paternal prezygotic, and postzygotic (during fertilization and seed set) temperatures. Offspring were followed for three years to measure the effects of treatment on several life-history traits and population growth rate, our estimate of fitness.
Parental treatment influenced germination, growth, and reproduction of newborns, but not survival or reproduction of offspring at least one year old. High postzygotic temperature significantly increased germination and leaf area at 17 weeks by approximately 35% and 2%, respectively. Probability of flowering and spike production in the newborn age class showed significant parental genotype × parental treatment interactions. High postzygotic temperature increased offspring fitness by approximately 50%. The strongest contributors to fitness were germination and probability of flowering and spike production of newborns. A comparison of our data with previously collected data for chamber-grown offspring shows that the influence of parental environment on offspring phenotype is weaker but still biologically meaningful in the field.
The results provide evidence that parental environment influences offspring fitness in natural populations of P. lanceolata and does so by affecting the life-history traits most strongly contributing to fitness. The data suggest that from the perspective of offspring fitness, natural selection favors parents that flower later in the flowering season in the North Carolina Piedmont when it is warmer. Genotypic-specific differences in response of offspring reproductive traits to parental environment suggest that parental environmental effects can influence the rate of evolutionary change in P. lanceolata.
Corresponding Editor: L. Stevens