Ecological consequences of genetic diversity




Understanding the ecological consequences of biodiversity is a fundamental challenge. Research on a key component of biodiversity, genetic diversity, has traditionally focused on its importance in evolutionary processes, but classical studies in evolutionary biology, agronomy and conservation biology indicate that genetic diversity might also have important ecological effects. Our review of the literature reveals significant effects of genetic diversity on ecological processes such as primary productivity, population recovery from disturbance, interspecific competition, community structure, and fluxes of energy and nutrients. Thus, genetic diversity can have important ecological consequences at the population, community and ecosystem levels, and in some cases the effects are comparable in magnitude to the effects of species diversity. However, it is not clear how widely these results apply in nature, as studies to date have been biased towards manipulations of plant clonal diversity, and little is known about the relative importance of genetic diversity vs. other factors that influence ecological processes of interest. Future studies should focus not only on documenting the presence of genetic diversity effects but also on identifying underlying mechanisms and predicting when such effects are likely to occur in nature.