Magnoli, S. 2018. The role of rapid adaptation in plant population establishment. Dissertation, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan.
Rapid adaptation, or adaptation that occurs on an ecological timescale, has been documented across a wide range of taxa and in many biological contexts, and can potentially alter the outcomes of ecological interactions and ecosystem-level processes. Rapid adaptation is also hypothesized to influence the establishment of species in new habitats, as rapid adaptation can have important demographic consequences for a colonizing population that is not optimally suited to a novel habitat. Examining the relationship between rapid adaptation and establishment can lead to a better understanding of successful colonization events, such as biological invasions, range expansions, and successful establishment in ecological restorations. In this dissertation, I used manipulative field and greenhouse experiments to examine rapid adaptation, its
potential drivers and trait changes that lead to adaptation, and its demographic consequences in two plant populations in recently restored prairies. I found evidence that one population rapidly adapted only six years after establishment, which could potentially influence population persistence. In addition, I found that the plant populations rapidly evolved different strategies of interacting with microbial mutualists, suggesting that these mutualists may act as agents of selection in this system. By providing evidence that rapid adaptation occurs in field populations and examining its potential drivers, my research expands our understanding of the potential causes and consequences of rapid adaptation in recently established plant populations.
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