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  1. Premise

    The drivers of isolation between sympatric populations of long‐lived and highly dispersible conspecific plants are not well understood. In the Hawaiian Islands, the landscape‐dominant tree,Metrosideros polymorpha, displays extraordinary phenotypic differences among sympatric varieties despite high dispersibility of its pollen and seeds, thereby presenting a unique opportunity to investigate how disruptive selection alone can maintain incipient forms. StenophyllousM. polymorphavar.newelliiis a recently evolved tree endemic to the waterways of eastern Hawai'i Island that shows striking neutral genetic differentiation from its ancestor, wet‐forestM. polymorphavar.glaberrima, despite sympatry of these forms. We looked for evidence for, and drivers of, differential local adaptation of these varieties across the range ofM. polymorphavar.newellii.

    Methods

    For paired populations of these varieties, we compared seedling performance under contrasting light conditions and a strong water current characteristic of the riparian zone. We also conducted a reciprocal transplant experiment and contrasted adult leaf anatomy.

    Results

    Results suggest that the riparian zone is harsh and that selection involving the mechanical stress of rushing water, and secondarily, light, led to significant reciprocal immigrant inviability in adjacent forest and riparian environments. The strongest adaptive divergence between varieties was seen in leaves and seedlings from the site with the sharpest ecotone, coincident with the strongest genetic isolation ofM. polymorphavar.newelliiobserved previously.

    Conclusions

    These findings suggest that disruptive selection across a sharp ecotone contributes to the maintenance of an incipient riparian ecotype from within a continuous population of a long‐lived and highly dispersible tree species.

     
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