We identified environment-dependent constraints on the evolution of plasticity to density under natural conditions in two natural populations of Impatiens capensis. We also examined the expression of population divergence in genetic variance-covariance matrices in these natural environments. Inbred lines, originally collected from a sunny site with high seedling densities and a woodland site with low seedling densities, were planted in both original sites at natural high densities and at low density. Morphological and life-history characters were measured. More genetic variation for plastic responses to density was expressed in the sun site than in the woodland site, so the evolutionary potential of plasticity was greater in the sun site. Strong genetic correlations between the same character expressed at different densities and correlations among different characters could constrain the evolution of plasticity in both sites. Genetically based trade-offs in meristem allocation to vegetative growth and reproduction were apparent only in the high-resource environment with no overhead canopy and no intraspecific competition. Therefore, genetic constraints on the evolution of plasticity depended on the site and density in which plants were grown, and correlated responses to selection on plastic characters are also expected to differ between sites and densities. Population differentiation in genetic variance-covariance matrices was detected, but matrix structural differences, as opposed to proportional differences, were detected between populations only in the sun site at natural high density. Thus, population divergence in genetic architecture can occur rapidly and on a fine spatial scale, but the expression of such divergence may depend on the environment.
Editor: A. Caballero