Modeling the influence of genetic and environmental variation on the expression of plant life cycles across landscapes

Liana T. Burghardt, C. Jessica E. Metcalf, Amity M. Wilczek, Johanna Schmitt, Kathleen Donohue

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Scopus citations


Organisms develop through multiple life stages that differ in environmental tolerances. The seasonal timing, or phenology, of life-stage transitions determines the environmental conditions to which each life stage is exposed and the length of time required to complete a generation. Both environmental and genetic factors contribute to phenological variation, yet predicting their combined effect on life cycles across a geographic range remains a challenge.We linked submodels of the plasticity of individual life stages to create an integrated model that predicts life-cycle phenology in complex environments. We parameterized the model for Arabidopsis thaliana and simulated life cycles in four locations. We compared multiple “genotypes” by varying two parameters associated with natural genetic variation in phenology: seed dormancy and floral repression. The model predicted variation in life cycles across locations that qualitatively matches observed natural phenology. Seed dormancy had larger effects on life-cycle length than floral repression, and results suggest that a genetic cline in dormancy maintains a life-cycle length of 1 year across the geographic range of this species. By integrating across life stages, this approach demonstrates how genetic variation in one transition can influence subsequent transitions and the geographic distribution of life cycles more generally.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)212-227
Number of pages16
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


  • Arabidopsis thaliana
  • Flowering time
  • Germination
  • Life history
  • Phenotypic plasticity
  • Population ecology


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