CIE Spotlight: The effect of herbivores on genotypic diversity in a clonal aquatic plant

Marcel K.

Marcel K.

TitleThe effect of herbivores on genotypic diversity in a clonal aquatic plant.

Authors: Hidding, Bert; Meirmans, Patrick G.; Klaassen, Marcel; de Boer, Thijs; Ouborg, N. J. (Joop); Wagemaker, C. A. M. (Niels); Nolet, Bart A.

Source: OIKOS, 123 (9):1112-1120, SEP 2014.

Brief summary of the paper: In clonal plants, vegetative parts may outcompete seeds in the absence of disturbance, limiting the build-up of genotypic diversity through repeated seedling recruitment (RSR). Herbivory may provide disturbance and trigger establishment of strong colonizers (seeds) at the expense of strong competitors (clonal propagules).

In the clonal aquatic fennel pondweed Potamogeton pectinatus, two distinct herbivore guilds may modify the dynamics of propagation. In winter, Bewick’s swans may deplete patches of tubers, promoting seedling establishment in spring.
In summer, seed consumption by waterfowl can reduce the density of viable seeds but grazing may also reduce tuber production and hence facilitate seedling establishment.

This study is among the first to experimentally test herbivore impact on plant genotypic diversity. We assess the separate and combined effects of both herbivore guilds on genotypic diversity and structure of fennel pondweed beds.

Using microsatellites, we genotyped P. pectinatus from an exclosure experiment and assessed the contribution of herbivory, dispersal and sexual reproduction to the population genetic structure. Despite the predominance of clonal propagation in P. pectinatus, we found considerable genotypic diversity. Within the experimental blocks, kinship among genets decreased with geographic distance, clearly identifying a role for RSR in the maintenance of genotypic diversity within the fennel pondweed beds.

However, over a period of five years, none of the herbivory treatments affected genotypic diversity. Hence, sexual reproduction on a local scale is important in this putatively clonal plant and possibly sufficient to ensure a relatively high genotypic diversity even in the absence of herbivores.

Although we cannot preclude a role of herbivory in shaping genotypic diversity of a clonal plant, after five years of exclusion of the two investigated herbivore guilds no measurable effect on genotypic diversity was detected.