In this thesis, I combined observational studies with field and greenhouse experiments to examine selection on life history traits and variation in tolerance and resistance against herbivores in natural populations of the annual herb Arabidopsis thaliana in its native range. I investigated (1) phenotypic selection on flowering time and plant size, (2) the effects of timing of germination on plant fitness, (3) the effect of leaf damage on seed production, and (4) correlations between resistance against a specialist and a generalist insect herbivore.
In all three study populations, flowering time was negatively related to plant fitness, but in only one of the populations, significant selection on flowering time was detected when controlling for size prior to the flowering season. The results show that correlations between flowering time and plant fecundity may be confounded by variation in plant size prior to the reproductive season.
A field experiment detected conflicting selection on germination time: Early germination was associated with low seedling survival, but also with large leaf rosette before winter and high survival and fecundity among established plants. The results suggest that low survival among early germinating seeds is the main force opposing the evolution of earlier germination, and that the optimal timing of germination should vary in space and time as a function of the relative strength of selection acting during different life-history stages.
Experimental leaf damage demonstrated that tolerance to damage was lowest among vegetative plants early in the season, and highest among flowering plants later in the season. Given similar damage levels, leaf herbivores feeding on plants before flowering should thus exert stronger selection on defence traits than those feeding on plants during flowering.
Resistance against larval feeding by the specialist Plutella xylostella was negatively correlated with resistance against larval feeding by the generalist Mamestra brassicae and with resistance against oviposition by P. xylostella when variation in resistance was examined within and among two Swedish and two Italian A. thaliana populations. The results suggest that negative correlations between resistance against different herbivores and different life-history stages of herbivores may contribute to the maintenance of genetic variation in resistance.