Intraspecific trait variation is caused by genetic and plastic responses to environment. This intraspecific diversity is captured in immense natural history collections, giving us a window into trait variation across continents and through centuries of environmental shifts. Here we tested if hypotheses based on life history and the leaf economics spectrum explain intraspecific trait changes across global spatiotemporal environmental gradients. We measured phenotypes on a 216-year time series of Arabidopsis thaliana accessions from across its native range and applied spatially varying coefficient models to quantify region-specific trends in trait coordination and trait responses to climate gradients. All traits exhibited significant change across space or through time. For example, δ15N decreased over time across much of the range and leaf C:N increased, consistent with predictions based on anthropogenic changes in land use and atmosphere. Plants were collected later in the growing season in more recent years in many regions, possibly because populations shifted toward more spring germination and summer flowering as opposed to fall germination and spring flowering. When climate variables were considered, collection dates were earlier in warmer years, while summer rainfall had opposing associations with collection date depending on regions. There was only a modest correlation among traits, indicating a lack of a single life history/physiology axis. Nevertheless, leaf C:N was low for summer- versus spring-collected plants, consistent with a life history–physiology axis from slow-growing winter annuals to fast-growing spring/summer annuals. Regional heterogeneity in phenotype trends indicates complex responses to spatiotemporal environmental gradients potentially due to geographic genetic variation and climate interactions with other aspects of environment. Our study demonstrates how natural history collections can be used to broadly characterize trait responses to environment, revealing heterogeneity in response to anthropogenic change.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Global and Planetary Change
- Environmental Chemistry
- Environmental Science(all)