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Ecology. 2010 May;91(5):1344-54.

Genetic variation in plant morphology contributes to the species-level structure of grassland communities.

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  • 1Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK.


It is becoming apparent that genetic diversity can influence the species diversity and structure of ecological communities. Here, we investigated the intraspecific trait variation responsible for this relationship. We grew 10 genotypes of the sedge Carex caryophyllea, as monocultures, under standardized conditions and measured traits related to morphology, growth, and life history. The same genotypes had been prominent in determining the structure of multispecies experimental communities, equivalent in species diversity, in which the genetic diversity of the constituent plant species had been varied in parallel. The trait measurements revealed substantial phenotypic variation among Carex genotypes, related predominantly to differences in physical size and to the spatial deployment of above- and belowground tissue. Genotypes successful in experimental communities were larger in size and tended to adopt a "guerrilla" clonal growth strategy. In general, multivariate trait summaries of genotype size (and to a lesser extent, variation along a linear discriminant axis) predicted genotype and species abundance in experimental communities. However, one genotype exhibited a large disparity in this respect. The performance of this genotype lay closer to prediction when it was growing with a highly competitive grass genotype. The strength of the relationship between genotype size and performance within communities decreased with decreasing community genetic diversity. These results indicate that intraspecific trait measurements are useful for predicting and understanding community structure. They also imply that competitive interactions between the genotypes of different species play an increased role in determining phenotype in genetically impoverished communities.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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