Plant Ecology

, Volume 185, Issue 1, pp 151–161 | Cite as

Is there a trade-off between species diversity and genetic diversity in forest tree communities?

  • Christian Wehenkel
  • Fritz Bergmann
  • Hans-Rolf GregoriusEmail author


The two most important components of biodiversity, species diversity and genetic diversity, have generally been treated as separate topics, although a coordination between both components is believed to be critical for ecosystem stability and resilience. Based on a new trait concept that allows for the assessment of genetic diversity across species, the relationship between species diversity and genetic diversity was examined in eight forest tree communities composed of different tree genera including both climax and pioneer species. It was intended to check whether a trade-off exists between the two diversity components as was found in a few studies on animal species.

Using several isozyme-gene systems as genetic markers, the genetic diversity across species within each of the tree communities was determined by two measures, the commonly used intraspecific genetic diversity averaged over species and the recently developed transspecific genetic diversity per species. Both data sets were compared with the corresponding community-specific species diversity resulting in a positive relationship between the two diversity components. A statistically significant positive correlation was established between the transspecific genetic diversity per species and the species diversity for three isozyme-gene systems. Beyond that, consistent results were obtained using different parameters of the diversity measure which characterize the total, the effective and the number of prevalent variants. The number of prevalent variants reflected most significantly the non-randomness of the observed diversity patterns.

These findings can be explained by the observation that the pioneer tree species reveal a by far higher genetic diversity than the climax tree species, which means that an increase in species diversity, due to the addition of several pioneer species at the expense of one or two climax species, goes along with an increase in the level of genetic diversity. Forest tree communities with the highest degree of species diversity exhibit therefore the highest transspecific genetic diversity per species. This result was discussed with regard to the particular composition and stability of forest tree communities.

Key words:

Climax species Diversity measures Environmental predictability hypothesis Isozyme systems Pioneer species Transspecific genetic diversity 


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This study was supported by a grant Gr 435/23-1 of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. Permission to utilize the study sites by “Stadt Mühlhausen” and “Freistaat Thüringen” as well as the technical assistance of M. Nöring is greatly appreciated. The authors thank Mark Vellend for helpful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christian Wehenkel
    • 1
  • Fritz Bergmann
    • 1
  • Hans-Rolf Gregorius
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Institut für Forstgenetik und Forstpflanzenzüchtung, Universität GöttingenGöttingenGermany

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