Genetic diversity and invasibility: a test using a model system with a novel experimental design


  • J. F. Weltzin,

  • N. Z. Muth,

  • B. Von Holle,

  • P. G. Cole

J. F. Weltzin, N. Z. Muth, B. Von Holle, and P.G. Cole, Dept of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennesse 37919, USA. Present address for JFW: 569 Dabney Hall, Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37919 (Phone: 865-974-5218 Fax: 865-974-5218) ( Present address for BH: Harvard Forest, Harvard Univ., P.O. Box 68 Petersham, MA 01366.


Biological invasion is one aspect of ecosystem function that may be controlled by the biological diversity of the invaded community, and there have been a number of recent studies that investigated relationships between diversity and invasibility. Most experimental studies report that higher species or functional group diversity increases resistance to invasion, but the role of genetic diversity is unknown. We used a model organism, Arabidopsis thaliana (Brassicaceae), to investigate relationships between genotypic richness and community invasibility by creating communities with 1, 2, 4, and 8 genotypes of A. thaliana at constant low (417 plants m−2) and high (834 plants m−2) densities, that once established, were invaded with a congener, Arabidopsis suecica. To reduce the potential effects of methodological confounding related to “sampling effects,”“variance reduction effects,” or confounding of abundance with diversity, we (1) created random communities from a relatively large pool of functionally and phenotypically similar genotypes, (2) evaluated individual and community traits across richness treatments, and (3) analyzed similarity of communities within treatments (for “quasi- replication”) and between adjacent treatments (for “nestedness”). Genotypic richness had no effect on A. suecica demography (emergence, survivorship), size (biomass, rosette area), or reproductive potential (rates of bolting and fruiting or number and size of bolts). In contrast, the density of A. thaliana genotypes had strong effects on the size and reproductive potential of A. suecica, which suggests that characteristics of the recipient community other than genotypic richness (e.g. light) form the most important determinant of community invasibility. Individual- and community-level traits of community members (cover, biomass, survivorship) did not differ among richness treatments, and within- and between-treatment similarity was reduced (relative to other recent experiments) but not eliminated. We evaluate our results vis-a-vis recent analyses of diversity-invasibility experiments, and provide directions for future investigations of genetic diversity.