Ecological consequences of angiosperm genome size and macronutrient availability
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Genome size (GS) is a fundamental trait influencing cellular, developmental and ecological parameters, and varies c. 2400- fold in angiosperms. This astonishing range has the potential to influence a plant’s nutrient demands, since nucleic acids are amongst the most phosphate and nitrogen demanding cellular biomolecules, and hence its ability to grow and compete in environments where macronutrients are limited. Angiosperm GS are strongly skewed towards small genomes, despite the prevalence of polyploidy in the ancestry of most if not all angiosperm lineages. This thesis examines the hypothesis that large genome sizes are costly to build and maintain and that angiosperm species with large GS are constrained by nitrogen and phosphate limitation. It untangles the interactions between GS, polyploidy and competition in plant communities, and examines how herbivory and GS play a role in plant productivity, measured as above-ground biomass. The hypothesis that large GS are costly was approached by analysing: 1) plant communities growing under different macronutrient conditions at the Park Grass Experiment (Rothamsted, UK); 2) plant communities under different conditions of macronutrient limitation and insect, mollusc, and rabbit herbivory at Nash’s Field in Silwood Park (UK); and, 3) Ellenberg’s indicator values which represent the realised niche of a species in terms light, water, and soil fertility. Support for the hypothesis was found in all experiments. The range of analyses show that angiosperm plants with large genomes (e.g. 1C-value > 5 pg) are indeed under greater macronutrient limitation in comparison to plants with small genomes, and that it is polyploid plants with large GS which are the most competitive when macronutrient resources are plentiful. In terms of herbivory, the key finding is a highly significant negative association between GS and rabbit herbivory. A species’ realised niche for soil fertility was found to show a positive association with its GS. Overall the thesis shows that angiosperm GS plays a central role in plant community composition and responses to macronutrient conditions, and potentially on higher ecosystem processes through associations at different trophic levels.
AuthorsGuignard, Maite Stephanie
- Theses