Grantee Research Project Results
Linking Population Genetic Diversity in Host Plants to Community Dynamics and Ecosystem ProcessesEPA Grant Number: F5F11519
Title: Linking Population Genetic Diversity in Host Plants to Community Dynamics and Ecosystem Processes
Investigators: Crutsinger, Gregory
Institution: University of Tennessee
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: August 1, 2004 through May 1, 2009
Project Amount: $111,172
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2005) RFA Text | Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships
A major goal in ecology is to understand the factors that structure communities. A community genetics approach addresses this goal by focusing on the genetic traits that mediate species interactions and structure communities. In particular, community genetics focuses on the role of intra-specific genetic variation in dominant and keystone species, which in turn affects dependent species, community organization, and ecosystem dynamics. The objective of this research is to explore the links between genes, ecological communities, and ecosystems by examining the relationship between population genetic diversity in host plants, species diversity of associated arthropods, and ecosystem processes.
This research combines field observations, experiments, and genetic techniques using Solidago canadesis (tall goldenrod) as a model system. Established is a common garden containing monocultures of 21 different goldenrod genotypes in field plots in an old-field ecosystem in East Tennessee. Specifically, in 1 m2 plots, there are plots that contain either 1,3,6, and 12 genotypes. The project will examine the response of arthropods to these treatments, along with the response of ecosystem processes such as primary productivity, nutrient cycling, and decomposition. In addition, a survey of natural patches of goldenrod will be conducted in old fields and examine the correlations among genetic diversity, arthropod diversity, and ecosystem processes across a landscape.
Species diversity is a potentially important element of community and ecosystem ecology, but the importance of genetic diversity within a species is an overlooked component. This research will provide one of the first empirical studies that actually manipulates host plant genetic diversity to understand how communities and ecosystems respond. Since goldenrod dominates fields and roadsides throughout North America, is an invasive species in much of Europe and supports a diverse array of species, results will have implications for many terrestrial ecosystems.