The adaptive potential of a population defines its importance for species survival in changing environmental conditions such as global climate change. Very few empirical studies have examined adaptive potential across species' ranges, namely, of edge vs core populations, and we are unaware of a study that has tested adaptive potential (namely, variation in adaptive traits) and measured performance of such populations in conditions not currently experienced by the species but expected in the future. Here we report the results of a Triticum dicoccoides population study that employed transplant experiments and analysis of quantitative trait variation. Two populations at the opposite edges of the species range (1) were locally adapted; (2) had lower adaptive potential (inferred from the extent of genetic quantitative trait variation) than the two core populations; and (3) were outperformed by the plants from the core population in the novel environment. The fact that plants from the species arid edge performed worse than plants from the more mesic core in extreme drought conditions beyond the present climatic envelope of the species implies that usage of peripheral populations for conservation purposes must be based on intensive sampling of among-population variation.
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