Ecosystem consequences of a single, genetically based plant trait

02/05/04

Climate is often touted as the most important regulator of decomposition and nutrient cycling processes in forest ecosystems, however, in the forthcoming issue of Ecology Letters, Schweitzer and her research team from Northern Arizona University and the University of Wisconsin, USA, demonstrate that plant genes can have strong effects on the availability of nitrogen for tree growth, via a tight coupling between chemicals produced by plants to deter herbivory and rates of soil nitrogen turnover. They found that the concentration of condensed tannins in leaf litter produced by cottonwood trees is genetically based, and explains the majority of the variation in the production of plant-available nitrogen in soil.

In contrast, climatic factors and other litter chemical traits were poor predictors of nitrogen cycling rates. Their research suggests that genetic variation within plant species should be considered when developing habitat conservation plans or models of ecosystem responses to global climate change.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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