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Ecology. 2010 Aug;91(8):2272-83.

Community and ecosystem effects of intraspecific genetic diversity in grassland microcosms of varying species diversity.

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Syracuse University, Department of Biology, 107 College Place, Syracuse, New York 13244, USA.


Studies of whether plant community structure and ecosystem properties depend on the genetic diversity of component populations have been largely restricted to species monocultures and have involved levels of genetic differentiation that do not necessarily correspond to that exhibited by neighboring mature individuals in the field. We established experimental communities of varying intraspecific genetic diversity, using genotypes of eight species propagated from clonal material of individuals derived from a small (100-m2) limestone grassland community, and tested whether genetic diversity (one, four, and eight genotypes per species) influenced community composition and annual aboveground productivity across communities of one, four, and eight species. Eight-species communities were represented by common grass, sedge, and forb species, and four- and one-species communities were represented by four graminoids and the dominant grass Festuca ovina, respectively. After three years of community development, there was a marginal increase of species diversity with increased genetic diversity in four- and eight-species communities, and genetic diversity altered the performance of genotypes in monospecific communities of F. ovina. However, shifts in composition from genetic diversity were not sufficient to alter patterns of community productivity. Neighborhood models describing pairwise interactions between species indicated that genetic diversity decreased the intensity of competition between species in four-species mixtures, thereby promoting competitive equivalency and enhancing species equitability. In F. ovina monocultures, neighborhood models revealed both synergistic and antagonistic interactions between genotypes that were reduced in intensity on more stressful shallow soils. Although the dependence of F. ovina genotype performance on neighborhood genetic composition did not influence total productivity, such dependence was sufficient to uncouple genotype performance in genetic mixtures and monocultures. Our results point to an important connection between local genetic diversity and species diversity in this species-rich ecosystem but suggest that such community-level dependence on genetic diversity may not feedback to ecosystem productivity.

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