Evolutionary potential in the wild: More than meets the eye
The genus Aquilegia consists of 60-70 perennial plant species widely distributed throughout the northern hemisphere. Its flowers have a delicate and ornamental appearance that makes them a favourite of gardeners. In this genus, adaptive radiations for both floral and vegetative traits have occurred. These adaptive radiations, and the key phylogenetic placement of Aquilegia between Arabidopsis and rice, make this genus a 'model system' for plant evolution (Kramer 2009). In this issue, Castellanos et al. (2011) use a marker-based method to infer heritability for floral and vegetative traits in two Aquilegia species. Layered on top of this are estimates of the strength of natural selection. This novel joint estimation of heritability and selection in the wild showed that vegetative traits, compared to floral traits, have the highest evolutionarily potential. Evolutionary potential is the most important quantity to measure in wild populations. It combines inheritance and strength of selection and predicts the potential for populations to adapt to changing environments. The combination of molecular techniques with species in natural environments makes this work a model for molecular ecological investigations.
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