Genetic trade-offs underlie divergent life history strategies for local adaptation in white clover

Sara J. Wright, David M. Goad, Briana L. Gross, Patricio R. Muñoz, Kenneth M. Olsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Local adaptation is common in plants, yet characterization of its underlying genetic basis is rare in herbaceous perennials. Moreover, while many plant species exhibit intraspecific chemical defence polymorphisms, their importance for local adaptation remains poorly understood. We examined the genetic architecture of local adaptation in a perennial, obligately-outcrossing herbaceous legume, white clover (Trifolium repens). This widespread species displays a well-studied chemical defence polymorphism for cyanogenesis (HCN release following tissue damage) and has evolved climate-associated cyanogenesis clines throughout its range. Two biparental F2 mapping populations, derived from three parents collected in environments spanning the U.S. latitudinal species range (Duluth, MN, St. Louis, MO and Gainesville, FL), were grown in triplicate for two years in reciprocal common garden experiments in the parental environments (6,012 total plants). Vegetative growth and reproductive fitness traits displayed trade-offs across reciprocal environments, indicating local adaptation. Genetic mapping of fitness traits revealed a genetic architecture characterized by allelic trade-offs between environments, with 100% and 80% of fitness QTL in the two mapping populations showing significant QTL×E interactions, consistent with antagonistic pleiotropy. Across the genome there were three hotspots of QTL colocalization. Unexpectedly, we found little evidence that the cyanogenesis polymorphism contributes to local adaptation. Instead, divergent life history strategies in reciprocal environments were major fitness determinants: selection favoured early investment in flowering at the cost of multiyear survival in the southernmost site versus delayed flowering and multiyear persistence in the northern environments. Our findings demonstrate that multilocus genetic trade-offs contribute to contrasting life history characteristics that allow for local adaptation in this outcrossing herbaceous perennial.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3742-3760
Number of pages19
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 2022


  • adaptive polymorphism
  • antagonistic pleiotropy
  • chemical defence
  • cyanogenesis
  • local adaptation
  • QTL×E interactions


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