, Volume 160, Issue 1, pp 119-127
Date: 12 Feb 2009

Genetic mosaics of ecosystem functioning across aspen-dominated landscapes

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Abstract

Genetic diversity is the foundation of all biodiversity, and the genetic variation within species is increasingly recognized as being important to ecosystem level processes. Recent research demonstrates that plant genotype influences above- and belowground communities as well as basic ecosystem functions. However, the extent to which plant genotypes create spatial mosaics of genetically mediated ecosystem processes in natural forests is uncertain. We use Populus tremuloides as a model system to demonstrate the importance of plant genotype on carbon and nitrogen cycling in natural systems. We identified 24 distinct P. tremuloides clones with multiple ramets across 25 km2 in southern Wisconsin, United States, using microsatellite makers. We then sampled clone leaf chemistry and belowground nutrient content and microbial extracellular enzyme activity. Aspen-induced variation in belowground carbon and nitrogen content, and microbial activity, varied widely among clones. Variation in green leaf chemistry and belowground microbial activity were correlated with genetic distance among clones, such that more genetically distant clones created more divergent patches of ecosystem processes. These data suggest that aspen genotypes create spatial mosaics of genetically mediated ecosystem functioning across natural landscapes and can therefore have evolutionary consequences for co-occurring species.

Communicated by Amy Austin.