, Volume 189, Issue 4, pp 1107–1120 | Cite as

Experimental drought reduces genetic diversity in the grassland foundation species Bouteloua eriopoda

  • Kenneth D. WhitneyEmail author
  • Joann Mudge
  • Donald O. Natvig
  • Anitha Sundararajan
  • William T. Pockman
  • Jennifer Bell
  • Scott L. Collins
  • Jennifer A. Rudgers
Global change ecology – original research


Understanding the resistance and resilience of foundation plant species to climate change is a critical issue because the loss of these species would fundamentally reshape communities and ecosystem processes. High levels of population genetic diversity may buffer foundation species against climate disruptions, but the strong selective pressures associated with climatic shifts may also rapidly reduce such diversity. We characterized genetic diversity and its responsiveness to experimental drought in the foundation plant, black grama grass (Bouteloua eriopoda), which dominates many western North American grasslands and shrublands. Previous studies suggested that in arid ecosystems, black grama reproduces largely asexually via stolons, and thus is likely to have low genetic variability, which might limit its potential to respond to climate disruptions. Using genotyping-by-sequencing, we demonstrated unexpectedly high genetic variability among black grama plants in a 1 ha site within the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in central New Mexico, suggesting some level of sexual reproduction. Three years of experimental, growing season drought reduced black grama survival and biomass (the latter by 96%), with clear genetic differentiation (higher FST) between plants succumbing to drought and those remaining alive. Reduced genetic variability in the surviving plants in drought plots indicated that the experimental drought had forced black grama populations through selection bottlenecks. These results suggest that foundation grass species, such as black grama, may experience rapid evolutionary change if future climates include more severe droughts.


Climate change Genotyping-by-sequencing Natural selection Experimental evolution Sevilleta long-term ecological research 



This work was supported by the U. S. National Science Foundation EAGER 1748133, DEB 1456955, DEB 1257965, and EF-01137363; and in part by an Institutional Development Award (IDeA) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under Grant number P20GM103451. This research was also supported by U. S. National Science Foundation grants to the University of New Mexico for Long-term Ecological Research. Thanks for field assistance from Anny Chung, Aaron Robinson, and Eva Dettweiler-Robinson.

Author contribution statement

KDW and JAR conceived the genetic diversity study; SLC and WTP designed and established the EDGE drought experiment; JAR, DON and JB conducted field sampling; JB extracted the DNA; JM and AS performed the genotyping; JM, JAR, DON and KDW analyzed the data; KDW, JM, DON, SLC and JAR wrote the manuscript; KDW, JM, JAR, SLC, and WTP contributed funding for the study.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical statement

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

Supplementary material

442_2019_4371_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (129 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 129 KB)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA
  2. 2.National Center for Genome ResourcesSanta FeUSA

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