Demonstration of local adaptation in maize landraces by reciprocal transplantation

Garrett M. Janzen, María Rocío Aguilar-Rangel, Carolina Cíntora-Martínez, Karla Azucena Blöcher-Juárez, Eric González-Segovia, Anthony J. Studer, Daniel E. Runcie, Sherry A. Flint-Garcia, Rubén Rellán-Álvarez, Ruairidh J.H. Sawers, Matthew B. Hufford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Populations are locally adapted when they exhibit higher fitness than foreign populations in their native habitat. Maize landrace adaptations to highland and lowland conditions are of interest to researchers and breeders. To determine the prevalence and strength of local adaptation in maize landraces, we performed a reciprocal transplant experiment across an elevational gradient in Mexico. We grew 120 landraces, grouped into four populations (Mexican Highland, Mexican Lowland, South American Highland, South American Lowland), in Mexican highland and lowland common gardens and collected phenotypes relevant to fitness and known highland-adaptive traits such as anthocyanin pigmentation and macrohair density. 67k DArTseq markers were generated from field specimens to allow comparisons between phenotypic patterns and population genetic structure. We found phenotypic patterns consistent with local adaptation, though these patterns differ between the Mexican and South American populations. Quantitative trait differentiation (QST) was greater than neutral allele frequency differentiation (FST) for many traits, signaling directional selection between pairs of populations. All populations exhibited higher fitness metric values when grown at their native elevation, and Mexican landraces had higher fitness than South American landraces when grown in these Mexican sites. As environmental distance between landraces’ native collection sites and common garden sites increased, fitness values dropped, suggesting landraces are adapted to environmental conditions at their natal sites. Correlations between fitness and anthocyanin pigmentation and macrohair traits were stronger in the highland site than the lowland site, supporting their status as highland-adaptive. These results give substance to the long-held presumption of local adaptation of New World maize landraces to elevation and other environmental variables across North and South America.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)817-837
Number of pages21
JournalEvolutionary Applications
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2022


  • Zea mays
  • highland adaptation
  • landrace
  • local adaptation
  • population genetics
  • reciprocal transplant

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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