Climate and life-history evolution in evening primroses (Oenothera, Onagraceae): A phylogenetic comparative analysis

Margaret E.K. Evans, David J. Hearn, William J. Hahn, Jennifer M. Spangle, D. Lawrence Venable

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


Evolutionary ecologists have long sought to understand the conditions under which perennial (iteroparous) versus annual (semelparous) plant life histories are favored. We evaluated the idea that aridity and variation in the length of droughts should favor the evolution of an annual life history, both by decreasing adult survival and by increasing the potential for high seedling survival via reduced plant cover. We calculated phylogenetically independent contrasts of climate with respect to life history in a clade of winter-establishing evening primroses (sections Anogra and Kleinia; Oenothera; Onagraceae), which includes seven annuals, 12 perennials, and two variable taxa. Climate variables were quantified from long-term records at weather stations near collection localities. To explicitly account for phylogenetic uncertainty, contrasts were calculated on a random sample of phylogenetic trees from the posterior distribution of a Bayesian analysis of DNA sequence data. Statements of association are based on comparing the pertree mean contrast, which has a null expectation of zero, to a set of per-tree mean contrasts calculated on the same trees, after randomizing the climate data. As predicted, increased annual aridity, increased annual potential evapotranspiration, and decreased annual precipitation were associated with transitions to the annual habit, but these trends were not significantly different from the null pattern. Transitions to the annual habit were not significantly associated with increases in one measure of aridity in summer nor with increased summer drought, but they were associated with significantly increased maximum summer temperatures. In winter, increased aridity and decreased precipitation were significantly associated with transitions to the annual habit. Changes in life history were not significantly associated with changes in the coefficient of variation of precipitation, either on an annual or seasonal (summer vs. winter) basis. Though we cannot attribute causality on the basis of a correlational, historical study, our results are consistent with the idea that increased heat and drought at certain times of the year favor the evolution of the annual habit. Increased heat in summer may cause adult survival to decline, while increased aridity and decreased precipitation in the season of seedling recruitment (winter) may favor a drought-avoiding, short-lived annual strategy. Not all of the predicted patterns were observed: the capability for drought-induced dormancy may preclude change in habit in response to summer drought in our study group.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1914-1927
Number of pages14
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2005


  • Aridity
  • Bayesian analysis
  • Iteroparity
  • Phylogenetic uncertainty
  • Semelparity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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