OOS 31-8
The functional importance of genetic diversity in plants and soils

Tuesday, August 11, 2015: 4:00 PM
336, Baltimore Convention Center
Jennifer Schweitzer, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN
Michael E. Van Nuland, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN
Ian M. Ware, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN
Joseph K. Bailey, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Knoxville, TN

Soils and underlying parent material can determine the distribution, population genetic structure and evolution of plant species at large scales. Simultaneously, plants can influence soil abiotic and biotic properties that feed back to impact plant diversity and succession, persistence of invasive species and soil fertility. Importantly, many of these feedbacks are mediated by components of the soil biota – positive feedbacks are often mediated by facilitation with mycorrhizal fungi and negative feedbacks are mediated by soil pathogens. Whether directly or indirectly, plant functional traits can create conditions that affect soil communities (i.e. their composition or activity) or processes that soil communities at least partly regulate (i.e. nutrient depolymerization or mineralization processes). 


More than 10 years of research on the genetic basis to plant-soil linkages across taxa demonstrate that genetic variation in functional plant traits can influence the diversity of soil communities and ecosystem processes such as leaf litter decomposition and nutrient cycling at multiple genetic scales – from genotypes to phylogenies. Soil communities and plant-soil feedback (defined as the positive or negative effects of previous plant influences or "conditioning" on soils that affect the fitness of plant offspring) can act as a selective force influencing plant genetic variation and evolution. This research expands the theoretical understanding of the importance of PSF in evolutionary ecology by providing empirical tests of recent model results, greatly enhances our understanding of the role of diverse soil biota and broadens our understanding of geographic mosaic of evolution across environments.