Measuring genetic diversity in ecological studies

Abstract

There is an increasing interest in how genetic diversity may correlate with and influence community and ecosystem properties. Genetic diversity can be defined in multiple ways, and currently lacking in ecology is a consensus on how to measure genetic diversity. Here, we examine two broad classes of genetic diversity: genotype-based and genome-based measures. Genotype-based measures, such as genotypic richness, are more commonly used in ecological studies, and often it is assumed that as genotypic diversity increases, genomic diversity (the number of genetic polymorphisms and/or genomic dissimilarity among individuals) also increases. However, this assumption is rarely assessed. We tested this assumption by investigating correlations between genotype- and genome-based measures of diversity using two plant population genetic datasets: one observational with data collected at Konza Prairie, KS, and the other based on simulated populations with five levels of genotypic richness, a typical design of genetic diversity experiments. We found conflicting results for both datasets; we found a mismatch between genotypic and genomic diversity measures for the field data, but not the simulated data. Last, we tested the consequences of this mismatch and found that correlations between genetic diversity and community/ecosystem properties depended on metric used. Ultimately, we argue that genome-based measures should be included in future studies alongside genotypic-based measures because they capture a greater spectrum of genetic differences among individuals.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by the USDA CSREES Ecosystem Studies Program, and the US Department of Energy’s Program for Ecosystem Research (#DE-FG02-04ER63892) to MDS. We thank Erem Kazancıoğlu for his assistance with the simulations. We also want to thank M. Vellend, J. Oliver, D. Post, C. Chang, J. Weis, T. Hanley, two anonymous reviewers and members of D. Post’s and M. Smith’s laboratories for their insightful comments and discussion of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Meghan L. Avolio.

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Avolio, M.L., Beaulieu, J.M., Lo, E.Y.Y. et al. Measuring genetic diversity in ecological studies. Plant Ecol 213, 1105–1115 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-012-0069-6

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Keywords

  • Community diversity
  • Ecosystem function
  • Genome diversity
  • Phenotype
  • SGDC