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Keywords:

  • aquatic plant ecology;
  • biodiversity;
  • community genetics;
  • compensation;
  • disturbance–stability;
  • ecosystem function;
  • eelgrass;
  • genotypic diversity;
  • primary production;
  • resilience;
  • Zostera marina

Summary

1. Genetic diversity, like species diversity, can enhance resistance or resilience to perturbation. However, we know little about how disturbance intensity affects this relationship or what mechanisms underlie the positive effects of genetic diversity.

2. We experimentally tested the independent and interactive effects of seagrass genotypic diversity (two levels) and disturbance (three levels) on seagrass biomass in a 2-year field experiment.

3. Our results indicate that genotypic diversity enhances seagrass resilience from experimental biomass removal, but only at the highest level of disturbance; in the absence of disturbance, monocultures out-perform polycultures over the short term.

4. Following recovery from the planned experimental disturbance, a natural macroalgal bloom caused a loss of seagrass shoots in our plots. In this case polycultures lost fewer shoots than monocultures (i.e. were more resistant to the disturbance), and this positive effect of genetic diversity persisted until the end of the experiment (1 year in total, including 6 months after all plots had recovered to pre-disturbance densities). At the end of the 2-year experiment, polycultures had higher shoot density and above-ground biomass than monocultures.

5. The positive effects of diversity on shoot density and biomass were caused by both trait-independent complementarity (TIC; due to differential resource use among clones) and positive dominance (due to one genotype achieving high density in both monoculture and polyculture).

6.Synthesis. Our results confirm that genetic diversity, like species diversity, can influence disturbance response and does so via similar mechanisms. They also highlight that over longer time frames, these effects are likely to result from a complex mix of dominance and complementarity mechanisms that depend on the traits of the specific taxa involved and the response variables of interest.