Potential ecosystem-level effects of genetic variation among populations of Metrosideros polymorpha from a soil fertility gradient in Hawaii
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- & Oecologia (2001) 126: 266. doi:10.1007/s004420000523
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This study assessed intrinsic differences in tissue quality and growth rate among populations of Metrosideros polymorpha native to sites with a range of soil fertilities. We collected seedlings from three Hawaiian mesic forests that were either phosphorus-limited, nitrogen-limited, or relatively fertile. These individuals were grown in a common garden under a factorial high/low, N/P fertilization regime for 1.5 years and then harvested to determine genetic divergence; aboveground growth rate; and lignin, N, and P concentrations in leaves and roots. Allozyme analyses indicated that the three groups had genetically diverged to some degree (genetic distance = 0.036–0.053 among populations). Relative growth rate did not differ significantly among the populations. Senescent leaves from the fertile-site population had the highest N concentrations (due to low N resorption) and had lower lignin concentrations than plants from the N-limited site. Across treatments, P concentrations in senescent leaves were highest in plants from the fertile and P-limited site. Root tissue quality did not generally differ significantly among populations. Since decomposition rate of senescent leaves in this system is related positively to N concentration and negatively to lignin concentration, senescent leaves from the fertile-site population may have a genetic tendency toward faster decay than the others. The intrinsic qualities of the three populations may provide positive feedbacks on nutrient cycling at each site–nutrient availability may be raised to some degree at the fertile site, and reduced at the N- or P-limited sites. Our results suggest that even a small degree of genetic differentiation among groups can influence traits related to nutrient cycling.