A genecological approach was used to explore genetic variation for survival in Artemisia tridentata(big sagebrush). Artemisia tridentata is a widespread and foundational shrub species in western North America. This species has become extremely fragmented, to the detriment of dependent wildlife, and efforts to restore it are now a land management priority. Common-garden experiments were established at three sites with seedlings from 55 source-populations. Populations included each of the three predominant subspecies, and cytotype variations. Survival was monitored for 5 years to assess differences in survival between gardens and populations. We found evidence of adaptive genetic variation for survival. Survival within gardens differed by source-population and a substantial proportion of this variation was explained by seed climate of origin. Plants from areas with the coldest winters had the highest levels of survival, while populations from warmer and drier sites had the lowest levels of survival. Survival was lowest, 36%, in the garden that was prone to the lowest minimum temperatures. These results suggest the importance of climatic driven genetic differences and their effect on survival. Understanding how genetic variation is arrayed across the landscape, and its association with climate can greatly enhance the success of restoration and conservation.
Rising temperatures have begun to shift flowering time, but it is unclear whether phenotypic plasticity can accommodate projected temperature change for this century. Evaluating clines in phenological traits and the extent and variation in plasticity can provide key information on assessing risk of maladaptation and developing strategies to mitigate climate change. In this study, flower phenology was examined in 52 populations of big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) growing in three common gardens. Flowering date (anthesis) varied 91 days from late July to late November among gardens. Mixed-effects modeling explained 79% of variation in flowering date, of which 46% could be assigned to plasticity and genetic variation in plasticity and 33% to genetics (conditional R2 = 0.79, marginal R2 = 0.33). Two environmental variables that explained the genetic variation were photoperiod and the onset of spring, the Julian date of accumulating degree-days >5 °C reaching 100. The genetic variation was mapped for contemporary and future climates (decades 2060 and 2090), showing flower date change varies considerably across the landscape. Plasticity was estimated to accommodate, on average, a ±13-day change in flowering date. However, the examination of genetic variation in plasticity suggests that the magnitude of plasticity could be affected by variation in the sensitivity to photoperiod and temperature. In a warmer common garden, lower-latitude populations have greater plasticity (+16 days) compared to higher-latitude populations (+10 days). Mapped climatypes of flowering date for contemporary and future climates illustrate the wide breadth of plasticity and large geographic overlap. Our research highlights the importance of integrating information on genetic variation, phenotypic plasticity and climatic niche modeling to evaluate plant responses and elucidate vulnerabilities to climate change.