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Oecologia. 2010 Apr;162(4):1017-25. doi: 10.1007/s00442-009-1501-z. Epub 2009 Nov 17.

Genetic variation for sensitivity to a thyme monoterpene in associated plant species.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, University of Aarhus, Ny Munkegade, Build. 1540, 8000 Arhus C, Denmark.


Recent studies have shown that plant allelochemicals can have profound effects on the performance of associated species, such that plants with a history of co-existence with "chemical neighbour" plants perform better in their presence compared to naïve plants. This has cast new light on the complexity of plant-plant interactions and plant communities and has led to debates on whether plant communities are more co-evolved than traditionally thought. In order to determine whether plants may indeed evolve in response to other plants' allelochemicals it is crucial to determine the presence of genetic variation for performance under the influence of specific allelochemicals and show that natural selection indeed operates on this variation. We studied the effect of the monoterpene carvacrol-a dominant compound in the essential oil of Thymus pulegioides-on three associated plant species originating from sites where thyme is either present or absent. We found the presence of genetic variation in both naïve and experienced populations for performance under the influence of the allelochemical but the response varied among naïve and experienced plant. Plants from experienced populations performed better than naïve plants on carvacrol soil and contained significantly more seed families with an adaptive response to carvacrol than naïve populations. This suggests that the presence of T. pulegioides can act as a selective agent on associated species, by favouring genotypes which perform best in the presence of its allelochemicals. The response to the thyme allelochemical varied from negative to neutral to positive among the species. The different responses within a species suggest that plant-plant interactions can evolve; this has implications for community dynamics and stability.

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