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Ecology. 2007 Aug;88(8):2114-20.

Host-plant genotypic diversity mediates the distribution of an ecosystem engineer.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, 569 Dabney Hall, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee 37996, USA.


Ecosystem engineers affect ecological communities by physically modifying the environment. Understanding the factors determining the distribution of engineers offers a powerful predictive tool for community ecology. In this study, we examine whether the goldenrod bunch gall midge (Rhopalomyia solidaginis) functions as an ecosystem engineer in an old-field ecosystem by altering the composition of arthropod species associated with a dominant host plant, Solidago altissima. We also examine the suite of factors that could affect the distribution and abundance of this ecosystem engineer. The presence of bunch galls increased species richness and altered the structure of associated arthropod communities. The best predictors of gall abundance were host-plant genotype and plot-level genotypic diversity. We found positive, nonadditive effects of genotypic diversity on gall abundance. Our results indicate that incorporating a genetic component in studies of ecosystem engineers can help predict their distribution and abundance, and ultimately their effects on biodiversity.

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