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Ecology. 2011 Sep;92(9):1807-17.

Plant genotype and nitrogen loading influence seagrass productivity, biochemistry, and plant-herbivore interactions.

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  • 1Institut Mediterrani d'Estudis Avan├žats (IMEDEA), CSIC-UIB, C/ Miquel Marques 21, 07190 Esporles, Illes Balears, Spain.


Genetic variation within and among key species can have significant ecological consequences at the population, community, and ecosystem levels. In order to understand ecological properties of systems based on habitat-forming clonal plants, it is crucial to clarify which traits vary among plant genotypes and how they influence ecological processes, and to assess their relative contribution to ecosystem functioning in comparison to other factors. Here we used a mesocosm experiment to examine the relative influence of genotypic identity and extreme levels of nitrogen loading on traits that affect ecological processes (at the population, community, and ecosystem levels) for Zostera marina, a widespread marine angiosperm that forms monospecific meadows throughout coastal areas in the Northern Hemisphere. We found effects of both genotype and nitrogen addition on many plant characteristics (e.g., aboveground and belowground biomass), and these were generally strong and similar in magnitude, whereas interactive effects were rare. Genotypes also strongly differed in susceptibility to herbivorous isopods, with isopod preference among genotypes generally matching their performance in terms of growth and survival. Chemical rather than structural differences among genotypes drove these differences in seagrass palatability. Nitrogen addition uniformly decreased plant palatability but did not greatly alter the relative preferences of herbivores among genotypes, indicating that genotype effects are strong. Our results highlight that differences in key traits among genotypes of habitat-forming species can have important consequences for the communities and ecosystems that depend on them and that such effects are not overwhelmed by known environmental stressors.

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