An ability to tolerate airborne saltwater spray is critical for plant populations in coastal environments. The opportunity for continued microevolution for improved salt tolerance can exist if there is variation in the response of genetic families to saltwater spray. Our objective was to determine whether or not there was differentiation among subpopulations near (15 m) and far (80 m) from shore and among families within subpopulations in relation to the effects of salt spray on life history traits in a population of the dunegrass Triplasis purpurea. In this annual, most seeds are matured in cleistogamous spikelets on axillary, leaf-sheath enclosed panicles and show poor dispersal capacity. Plants were reared in the greenhouse from seeds of 13 and 11 families from the near and far subpopulations, respectively. Fifty percent of plants in a family were subjected to 6 seawater sprays/wk, resulting in weekly salt deposition of 213 μg/cm(2); the others were sprayed with distilled water. Data were recorded on life span, tiller numbers, root and shoot dry mass, and seed production. There was no effect of subpopulation on any measured trait and, hence, no evidence for local adaptation to salt spray. Final tiller numbers, but not dry mass or seed production, were reduced by salt spray. However, for most traits there were significant family (within subpopulation) effects, indicating genetic substructuring. Life span and mean seed mass showed a significant family by treatment interaction, indicating genetic variation in phenotypic responses to salt spray. Life span and mean seed mass were reduced by salt spray in some, but not all, families. Path analysis revealed that an increase in life span or tiller number indirectly increased seed production via direct effects on vegetative mass. For this relatively salt-tolerant T. purpurea population on the south shore of Staten Island, New York, USA, salt sprays may not be a significant agent of natural selection. However, there are pronounced phenotypic differences among inbred family groups and opportunity for genetic substructuring within these subpopulations. Variable effects of salt spray among families could result in microevolutionary changes in life span and mean seed mass, both of which impact annual fitness in this dunegrass.
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