A footprint of tree-genetics on the biota of the forest floor

Authors

  • Robert C. Barbour,

  • Susan C. Baker,

  • Julianne M. O'Reilly-Wapstra,

  • Tammy M. Harvest,

  • Bradley M. Potts


R. C. Barbour (robert.barbour@utas.edu.au), S. C. Baker, J. M. O'Reilly-Wapstra, T. M. Harvest and B. M. Potts, School of Plant Science and Cooperative Research Centre for Forestry, Univ. of Tasmania, Private Bag 55, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia 7001. Present address for SCB: Forestry Tasmania and Cooperative Research Centre for Forestry, 79 Melville St, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia 7000.

Abstract

Understanding how far the effects of genes extend beyond the phenotype of an individual or population, is fundamental to the developing field of community genetics. We therefore assessed two geographically and genetically distinct populations of the Australian forest tree, Eucalyptusglobulus, and the existence of genetic effects on a leaf litter invertebrate community and soil characteristics within a 15 year old common garden. Twenty trees per population were randomly selected for felling and placement of the apical branch next to the stump. This produced a leaf litter habitat of known genotype. Pitfall trap sampling for invertebrates, and linseed bioassay analyses of soil, were conducted within this habitat. Two key findings emerged. Firstly, assessment of 27 invertebrate orders (57 924 individuals) revealed significant population-level variation in leaf litter biodiversity (i.e. in community richness, abundance, composition and beta diversity). Secondly, considerable population-level differences in soil characteristics were evident based on linseed germination and growth responses. While recent findings in E. globulus have demonstrated consequences of genetic variation within forest trees for organisms that interact directly (i.e. proximally) with the living tree, these findings highlight the distal impacts that intraspecific genetic variation may have on communities and ecosystems. Such community genetic considerations have important implications for in situ community conservation, biodiversity management within restoration and plantation forestry, and our understanding of community-level evolutionary interactions involving foundation species.

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