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Keywords:

  • Above- and belowground linkages;
  • community and ecosystem genetics;
  • feedbacks;
  • genetic × environment interactions;
  • nutrient cycling;
  • Populus

Abstract

The role of plant intraspecific variation in plant–soil linkages is poorly understood, especially in the context of natural environmental variation, but has important implications in evolutionary ecology. We utilized three 18- to 21-year-old common gardens across an elevational gradient, planted with replicates of five Populus angustifolia genotypes each, to address the hypothesis that tree genotype (G), environment (E), and G × E interactions would affect soil carbon and nitrogen dynamics beneath individual trees. We found that soil nitrogen and carbon varied by over 50% and 62%, respectively, across all common garden environments. We found that plant leaf litter (but not root) traits vary by genotype and environment while soil nutrient pools demonstrated genotype, environment, and sometimes G × E interactions, while process rates (net N mineralization and net nitrification) demonstrated G × E interactions. Plasticity in tree growth and litter chemistry was significantly related to the variation in soil nutrient pools and processes across environments, reflecting tight plant–soil linkages. These data overall suggest that plant genetic variation can have differential affects on carbon storage and nitrogen cycling, with implications for understanding the role of genetic variation in plant–soil feedback as well as management plans for conservation and restoration of forest habitats with a changing climate.