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Oecologia

, Volume 171, Issue 2, pp 571–581 | Cite as

Genetic diversity of a dominant C4 grass is altered with increased precipitation variability

  • Meghan L. AvolioEmail author
  • Jeremy M. Beaulieu
  • Melinda D. Smith
Global change ecology - Original research

Abstract

Climate change has the potential to alter the genetic diversity of plant populations with consequences for community dynamics and ecosystem processes. Recent research focused on changes in climatic means has found evidence of decreased precipitation amounts reducing genetic diversity. However, increased variability in climatic regimes is also predicted with climate change, but the effects of this aspect of climate change on genetic diversity have yet to be investigated. After 10 years of experimentally increased intra-annual variability in growing season precipitation regimes, we report that the number of genotypes of the dominant C4 grass, Andropogon gerardii Vitman, has been significantly reduced in native tallgrass prairie compared with unmanipulated prairie. However, individuals showed a different pattern of genomic similarity with increased precipitation variability resulting in greater genome dissimilarity among individuals when compared to unmanipulated prairie. Further, we found that genomic dissimilarity was positively correlated with aboveground productivity in this system. The increased genomic dissimilarity among individuals in the altered treatment alongside evidence for a positive correlation of genomic dissimilarity with phenotypic variation suggests ecological sorting of genotypes may be occurring via niche differentiation. Overall, we found effects of more variable precipitation regimes on population-level genetic diversity were complex, emphasizing the need to look beyond genotype numbers for understanding the impacts of climate change on genetic diversity. Recognition that future climate change may alter aspects of genetic diversity in different ways suggests possible mechanisms by which plant populations may be able to retain a diversity of traits in the face of declining biodiversity.

Keywords

AFLP Andropogon gerardii Dice dissimilarity Dominant species Genotypic structure 

Notes

Acknowledgments

We thank A. Knapp, J. Blair, S. Collins and a number of research technicians, graduate students and undergraduates for their assistance with and maintenance of the RaMPs project, notably P. O’Neal. We also thank G. Caccone and the DNA analysis facility for support with the AFLP analysis. Thanks to C. Chang, T. Schreck, T. Nelson and S. Koerner for assistance in the field, and E. Lo for assisting with analysis of the genetic data. Lastly, we thank A. Knapp, S. Collins, G. Caccone, D. Post, C. Chang, and anonymous reviewers for comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. This research was supported by the US Department of Energy’s Program for Ecosystem Research (#DE-FG02-04ER63892), the USDA CSREES Ecosystem Studies Program, the NSF Ecosystems Program, and the NSF Long-Term Ecological Program at Konza Prairie. The experiment complies with the current laws of the United States of America where the experiment was performed.

Supplementary material

442_2012_2427_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (876 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 875 kb)

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Meghan L. Avolio
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jeremy M. Beaulieu
    • 1
  • Melinda D. Smith
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyYale UniversityNew HavenUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA

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