The role of elevation and soil chemistry in the distribution and ion accumulation of floral morphs of Streptanthus polygaloides Gray (Brassicaceae), a Californian nickel hyperaccumulator

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Background: The flora of serpentine/ultramafic soils provides an excellent model system for the study of natural selection in plant populations. Streptanthus polygaloides is a nickel hyperaccumulator that is endemic to serpentine soils in the Sierra Nevada of California, and has four floral morphs (yellow, purple, yellow-to-purple and undulate). Aims: We investigate three hypotheses: (1) the purple morph occurs in colder, wetter climates than the yellow morph; (2) tissue–soil ionic relationships differ among morphs; and (3) morphs occur on soils with differing elemental concentrations. Methods: We queried herbarium records to investigate patterns of occurrence among the yellow and purple floral morphs, and analysed soil and tissue samples from wild populations of all four morphs. Results: The purple morph inhabited serpentine outcrops with colder temperatures and greater precipitation levels than the yellow morph. Concentrations of elements in leaf tissue and rhizosphere soil differed little among populations of the morphs, but showed substantial within-site variation. Conclusions: Our results suggest that a climatic gradient may be responsible for divergence in floral colour among populations of S. polygaloides. Because of the large within-site variation in soil and tissue elemental concentrations, plants appear to have a varied physiological response to edaphic factors, regardless of morph membership.