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Evolution. 2005 Jan;59(1):61-9.

Plant genetic determinants of arthropod community structure and diversity.

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Department of Biological Sciences and the Merriam-Powell Center for Environmental Research, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, Arizona 86011, USA.


To test the hypothesis that genes have extended phenotypes on the community, we quantified how genetic differences among cottonwoods affect the diversity, abundance, and composition of the dependent arthropod community. Over two years, five major patterns were observed in both field and common-garden studies that focused on two species of cottonwoods and their naturally occurring F1 and backcross hybrids (collectively referred to as four different cross types). We did not find overall significant differences in arthropod species richness or abundance among cottonwood cross types. We found significant differences in arthropod community composition among all cross types except backcross and narrowleaf cottonwoods. Thus, even though we found similar richness among cross types, the species that composed the community were significantly different. Using vector analysis, we found that the shift in arthropod community composition was correlated with percent Fremont alleles in the host plant, which suggests that the arthropod community responds to the underlying genetic differences among trees. We found 13 arthropod species representing different trophic levels that were significant indicators of the four different cross types. Even though arthropod communities changed in species composition from one year to the next, the overall patterns of community differences remained remarkably stable, suggesting that the genetic differences among cross types exert a strong organizing influence on the arthropod community. Together, these results support the extended phenotype concept. Few studies have observationally and experimentally shown that entire arthropod communities can be structured by genetic differences in their host plants. These findings contribute to the developing field of community genetics and suggest a strategy for conserving arthropod diversity by promoting genetic diversity in their host plants.

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