When addressing the nature of ecological adaptation and environmental factors limiting population ranges and contributing to speciation, it is important to consider not only the plant's genotype and its response to the environment, but also any close interactions that it has with other organisms, specifically, symbiotic microorganisms. To investigate this, soils and seedlings were reciprocally transplanted into common gardens of the big sagebrush hybrid zone in Salt Creek Canyon, Utah, to determine location and edaphic effects on the fitness of parental and hybrid plants. Endophytic symbionts and functional microbial diversity of indigenous and transplanted soils and sagebrush plants were also examined. Strong selection occurred against the parental genotypes in the middle hybrid zone garden in middle hybrid zone soil; F1 hybrids had the highest fitness under these conditions. Neither of the parental genotypes had superior fitness in their indigenous soils and habitats; rather F1 hybrids with the nonindigenous maternal parent were superiorly fit. Significant garden-by-soil type interactions indicate adaptation of both plant and soil microorganisms to their indigenous soils and habitats, most notably in the middle hybrid zone garden in middle hybrid zone soil. Contrasting performances of F1 hybrids suggest asymmetrical gene flow with mountain, rather than basin, big sagebrush acting as the maternal parent. We showed that the microbial community impacted the performance of parental and hybrid plants in different soils, likely limiting the ranges of the different genotypes.
Additional publication details
Genotype, soil type, and locale effects on reciprocal transplant vigor, endophyte growth, and microbial functional diversity of a narrow sagebrush hybrid zone in Salt Creek Canyon, Utah