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Does chemical composition of individual Scots pine trees determine the biodiversity of their associated ground vegetation?


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Despite plant secondary metabolites being major determinants of species interactions and ecosystem processes, their role in the maintenance of biodiversity has received little attention. In order to investigate the relationship between chemical and biological diversity in a natural ecosystem, we considered the impact of chemical diversity in individual Scots pine trees (Pinus sylvestris) on species richness of associated ground vegetation. Scots pine trees show substantial genetically determined constitutive variation between individuals in concentrations of a group of secondary metabolites, the monoterpenes. When the monoterpenes of particular trees were assessed individually, there was no relationship with species richness of associated ground flora. However, the chemical diversity of monoterpenes of individual trees was significantly positively associated with the species richness of the ground vegetation beneath each tree, mainly the result of an effect among the non-woody vascular plants. This correlation suggests that the chemical diversity of the ecosystem dominant species has an important role in shaping the biodiversity of the associated plant community. The extent and significance of this effect, and its underlying processes require further investigation.

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