, Volume 170, Issue 2, pp 467-475
Date: 31 Mar 2012

Genetic effects of tank-forming bromeliads on the associated invertebrate community in a tropical forest ecosystem

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Within the area of community genetics there is an expanding volume of literature demonstrating how within-species genetic variation in temperate trees can have important effects on structuring animal and plant communities. The influence of intraspecific genetic variation on associated communities in relatively more complex ecosystems is only starting to be appreciated. Within tropical forests, epiphytic bromeliad plants often grow high in the canopy and create unique nutrient-rich microhabitats on which many invertebrate and vertebrate species depend. We investigated the influence of within-species genetic variation in the bromeliad Aechmea bracteata on the invertebrate microhabitat community. We found that more genetically similar bromeliad plants were host to more similar communities of juvenile-stage invertebrates, but not adult invertebrates. We discuss possible mechanisms for this, including differential survival and active female oviposition choice. Our work shows that the impact of within-species genetic variation on associated ecological communities may be more general than previously considered. These results agree with recent research suggesting that within-species genetic variation may perform a supporting ecosystem service for maintaining community and ecological processes.

Communicated by Jason Tylianakis.