Background: Differential selection between clones of apomictic species may result in ecological differentiation without mutation and recombination, thus offering a simple system to study adaptation and life-history evolution in plants.
Methodology/Principal Findings: We caused density-independent mortality by weeding to colonizer populations of the largely apomictic Taraxacum officinale (Asteraceae) over a 5-year period in a grassland biodiversity experiment (Jena Experiment). We compared the offspring of colonizer populations with resident populations deliberately sown into similar communities. Plants raised from cuttings and seeds of colonizer and resident populations were grown under uniform conditions. Offspring from colonizer populations had higher reproductive output, which was in general agreement with predictions of r-selection theory. Offspring from resident populations had higher root and leaf biomass, fewer flower heads and higher individual seed mass as predicted under K-selection. Plants grown from cuttings and seeds differed to some degree in the strength, but not in the direction, of their response to the r- vs. K-selection regime. More diverse communities appeared to exert stronger K-selection on resident populations in plants grown from cuttings, while we did not find significant effects of increasing species richness on plants grown from seeds.
Conclusions/Significance: Differentiation into r- and K-strategists suggests that clones with characteristics of r-strategists were selected in regularly weeded plots through rapid colonization, while increasing plant diversity favoured the selection of clones with characteristics of K-strategists in resident populations. Our results show that different selection pressures may result in a rapid genetic differentiation within a largely apomictic species. Even under the assumption that colonizer and resident populations, respectively, happened to be r- vs. K-selected already at the start of the experiment, our results still indicate that the association of these strategies with the corresponding selection regimes was maintained during the 5-year experimental period.