Ecological factors influence balancing selection on leaf chemical profiles of a wildflower


  • L.N. Carley
  • J.P. Mojica
  • B. Wang
  • C.Y. Chen
  • Y.P. Lin
  • K.V.S.K Prasad
  • E. Chan
  • C.W. Hsu
  • R. Keith
  • C.L. Nuñez
  • C.F. Olson-Manning
  • C.A. Rushworth
  • M.R. Wagner
  • J. Wang
  • P.M. Yeh
  • M. Reichelt
  • K. Ghattas
  • J. Gershenzon
  • C.R. Lee
  • T. Mitchell-Olds


  • Nature Ecology & Evolution


  • Nat Ecol Evol 5: 1135–1144


  • Balancing selection is frequently invoked as a mechanism that maintains variation within and across populations. However, there are few examples of balancing selection operating on loci underpinning complex traits, which frequently display high levels of variation. We investigated mechanisms that may maintain variation in a focal polymorphism - leaf chemical profiles of a perennial wildflower (Boechera stricta, Brassicaceae) - explicitly interrogating multiple ecological and genetic processes including spatial variation in selection, antagonistic pleiotropy and frequency-dependent selection. A suite of common garden and greenhouse experiments showed that the alleles underlying variation in chemical profile have contrasting fitness effects across environments, implicating two ecological drivers of selection on chemical profile: herbivory and drought. Phenotype-environment associations and molecular genetic analyses revealed additional evidence of past selection by these drivers. Together, these data are consistent with balancing selection on chemical profile, probably caused by pleiotropic effects of secondary chemical biosynthesis genes on herbivore defence and drought response.