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Studies of seed-weight variation across altitudinal and latitudinal gradients have led to conflicting hypotheses regarding the selective value of this trait in relation to the length of the growing season. Growing-season length may also influence the evolution of seed number, and population differentiation in seed weight may be constrained by a negative genetic correlation between seed weight and seed number within populations. We examined variation in seed weight and an estimate of seed number (flower number) and the covariance of these traits among populations of Prunella vulgaris at five latitudes between northern Michigan and South Carolina. We measured seed weight and flower number in native habitats and in a common environment to determine the extent to which patterns observed in the field reflect genetic differentiation. We observed no genetically based variation in seed weight across the latitudinal gradient, although genetic variation among populations within a latitude was observed. In contrast to the lack of variation in seed weight, flower number increased clinally from northern Michigan to Tennessee in a common environment. Population mean flowering date in a common environment was successively later from north to south. Later-flowering individuals appear to achieve a larger size before flowering and consequently possess more resources for seed production. This difference may account for the greater flower production of late-flowering, southern populations. Independence of population mean seed weight and flower number across the latitudinal gradient suggests that population differentiation in seed weight has not been constrained by a trade-off between seed size and number within populations.
Oecologia © 1993 Springer