Epigenetic differences linked to phenotypic variation in field and common garden grown Scabiosa columbaria plants

Maartje P. Groot*, Niels Wagemaker, Joop Ouborg, Koen J.F. Verhoeven, P. Vergeer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Populations often differ in phenotype and these differences can be caused by adaptation by natural selection, random neutral processes, and environmental responses. The most straightforward way to divide mechanisms that influence phenotypic variation is heritable variation and environmental‐induced variation (e.g., plasticity). While genetic variation is responsible for most heritable phenotypic variation, part of this is also caused by nongenetic inheritance. Epigenetic processes may be one of the underlying mechanisms of plasticity and nongenetic inheritance and can therefore possibly contribute to heritable differences through drift and selection. Epigenetic variation may be influenced directly by the environment, and part of this variation can be transmitted to next generations. Field screenings combined with common garden experiments will add valuable insights into epigenetic differentiation, epigenetic memory and can help to reveal part of the relative importance of epigenetics in explaining trait variation. We explored both genetic and epigenetic diversity, structure and differentiation in the field and a common garden for five British and five French Scabiosa columbaria populations. Genetic and epigenetic variation was subsequently correlated with trait variation. Populations showed significant epigenetic differentiation between populations and countries in the field, but also when grown in a common garden. By comparing the epigenetic variation between field and common garden‐grown plants, we showed that a considerable part of the epigenetic memory differed from the field‐grown plants and was presumably environmentally induced. The memory component can consist of heritable variation in methylation that is not sensitive to environments and possibly genetically based, or environmentally induced variation that is heritable, or a combination of both. Additionally, random epimutations might be responsible for some differences as well. By comparing epigenetic variation in both the field and common environment, our study provides useful insight into the environmental and genetic components of epigenetic variation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3505-3517
Number of pages13
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018


  • AFLP
  • common garden
  • DNA methylation
  • epigenetic memory
  • population epigenetics


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