Journal Article

Regional heterogeneity and gene flow maintain variance in a quantitative trait within populations of lodgepole pine

Genetic variation is of fundamental importance to biological evolution, yet we still know very little about how it is maintained in nature. Because many species inhabit heterogeneous environments and have pronounced local adaptations, gene flow between differently adapted populations may be a persistent source of genetic variation within populations. If this migration selection balance is biologically important then there should be strong correlations between genetic variance within populations and the amount of heterogeneity in the environment surrounding them. Here, we use data from a long-term study of 142 populations of lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) to compare levels of genetic variation in growth response with measures of climatic heterogeneity in the surrounding region. We find that regional heterogeneity explains at least 20% of the variation in genetic variance, suggesting that gene flow and heterogeneous selection may play an important role in maintaining the high levels of genetic variation found within natural populations.