DOI: 10.1007/s10144-010-0252-3

Forest gene diversity is correlated with the composition and function of soil microbial communities

1. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee

Correspondence to:
Jennifer Schweitzer
Email: Jen.Schweitzer@utk.edu

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Abstract

The growing field of community and ecosystem genetics indicates that plant genotype and genotypic variation are important for structuring communities and ecosystem processes. Little is known, however, regarding the effects of stand gene diversity on soil communities and processes under field conditions. Utilizing natural genetic variation occurring in Populus spp. hybrid zones, we tested the hypothesis that stand gene diversity structures soil microbial communities and influences soil nutrient pools. We found significant unimodal patterns relating gene diversity to soil microbial community composition, microbial exoenzyme activity of a carbon-acquiring enzyme, and availability of soil nitrogen. Multivariate analyses indicate that this pattern is due to the correlation between gene diversity, plant secondary chemistry, and the composition of the microbial community that impacts the availability of soil nitrogen. Together, these data from a natural system indicate that stand gene diversity may affect soil microbial communities and soil processes in ways similar to species diversity (i.e., unimodal patterns). Our results further demonstrate that the effects of plant genetic diversity on other organisms may be mediated by plant functional trait variation.

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