Attenuation of FLOWERING LOCUS C activity as a mechanism for the evolution of summer-annual flowering behavior in Arabidopsis
Plant species have evolved a wide variety of flowering habits, each adapted to maximize reproductive success in their local environment. Even within a species, accessions from different environments can exhibit markedly different flowering behavior. In Arabidopsis, some accessions are rapid-cycling summer annuals, whereas others accessions are late flowering and vernalization responsive and thus behave as winter annuals. Two genes, FLOWERING LOCUS C (FLC) and FRIGIDA (FRI), interact synergistically to confer the winter-annual habit. Previous work has shown that many summer-annual accessions contain null mutations in the FRI gene; thus it appears that these summer-annual accessions have arisen from winter-annual ancestors by losing FRI function. In this work we demonstrate that naturally occurring allelic variation in FLC has provided another route to the evolution of summer-annual flowering behavior in Arabidopsis. We have identified two summer-annual accessions, Da (1)-12 and Shakhdara, that contain functional alleles of FRI, but are early flowering because of weak alleles of FLC. We have also determined that the weak allele of FLC found in Landsberg erecta is naturally occurring. Unlike accessions that have arisen because of loss-of-function mutations in FRI, the FLC alleles from Da (1)-12, Shakhdara, and Landsberg erecta are not nulls; however, they exhibit lower steady-state mRNA levels than strong alleles of FLC. Sequence analysis indicates that these weak alleles of FLC have arisen independently at least twice during the course of evolution.