Plant polyploid complexes provide useful model systems for distinguishing between adaptive and nonadaptive causes of parapatric distributions in closely related lineages. Polyploidy often gives rise to morphological and physiological changes, which may be adaptive to different environments, but separate distributions may also be maintained by reproductive interference caused by postzygotic reproductive isolation. Here, we test the hypothesis that diploid and descendent polyploid races of the wind-pollinated herb Mercurialis annua, which are found in parapatry over an environmental gradient in northeast Spain, are differentiated in their ecophysiology and life history. We also ask whether any such differences represent adaptations to their different natural environments. On the basis of a series of reciprocal transplant experiments in the field, and experiments under controlled conditions, we found that diploid and polyploid populations of M. annua are ecologically differentiated, but that they do not show local adaptation; rather, the diploids have higher fitness than the polyploids across both diploid- and polyploid-occupied regions. In fact, diploids are currently displacing polyploids by advancing south on two separate fronts in Spain, and previous work has shown that this displacement is being driven to a large extent by asymmetrical pollen swamping. Our results here suggest that ecophysiological superiority of the diploids may also be contributing to their expansion.
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Vol. 61 • No. 1