Data from: Variability in DNA methylation and generational plasticity in the Lombardy poplar, a single genotype worldwide distributed since the eighteenth century. Dryad Digital Repository



In the absence of genetic diversity, plants rely on the capacity of phenotypic plasticity to cope with shifts in environmental conditions. Understanding the mechanisms behind phenotypic plasticity and how local phenotypic adjustments are transferred to clonal offspring, will provide insight into its ecological and evolutionary significance. Epigenetic changes have recently been proposed to play a crucial role in rapid environmental adaptation. While the contribution of epigenetic changes to phenotypic plasticity has been extensively studied in sexual reproducing model organisms, little work has been done on vegetative generations of asexual reproducing plant species.
We studied epigenetic variation and bud set phenology of the Lombardy poplar (Populus nigra cv. Italica Duroi), a cultivated tree representing a single genotype worldwide distributed since the 18th century. Bud set observations and epigenetic variation were studied on vegetative offspring resulting from cuttings grown for one season in a common glasshouse environment. The cuttings were collected from 60 adult Lombardy poplars growing in different environments. The physiological condition of the cuttings was determined by measuring weight and nutrient condition. Methylation sensitive amplified polymorphisms were used to obtain global patterns of DNA methylation. Using logistic regression models, we investigated correlations among epigenotype, bud phenology and the climate at the home site of the donor trees, while accounting for physiological effects.
We found significant epigenetic variation as well as significant variation in bud phenology, in the absence of genetic variation. Remarkably, phenology of bud set observed at the end of the growing season in the common environment was significantly correlated with climate variables at the home site of the mother trees, specifically the average temperature of January and monthly potential evapotranspiration.
Although we could not directly detect significant effects of epigenetic variation on phenology, our results suggest that, in the Lombardy poplar, epigenetic marks contribute to the variation of phenotypic response that can be transferred onto asexually reproduced offspring resulting in locally adapted ecotypes. This contributes to the growing evidence that epigenetic-based transgenerational inheritance might be relevant for adaptation and evolution in contrasting or rapidly changing environments.
Date made available2018
Date of data production2017 -
Geographical coverageEurope

Free keywords

  • epigenetics
  • DNA-methylation
  • Methylated sensitive AFLP

Thematic List 2020

  • Protected nature
  • Data & infrastructure

Taxonomic list

  • poplar (Populus spp.)

Geographic list

  • Europe

Thematic list

  • Species and biotopes

EWI Biomedical sciences

  • B003-ecology

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