Genetic diversity of Andropogon gerardii: Impacts of altered precipitation patterns on a dominant species

TitleGenetic diversity of Andropogon gerardii: Impacts of altered precipitation patterns on a dominant species
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsAvolio, ML
AdvisorSmith, MD
DegreePhD Dissertation
Number of Pages1 -258
UniversityYale University
CityNew Haven, CT
Thesis TypePh.D. Thesis
Accession NumberKNZ001480

Global change is expected to shift climatic regimes and cause whole communities of organisms to experience novel environments. Key aspects of forecast climate change are alterations in both the amount of precipitation and the variability of precipitation regimes. The ability of a population to adapt will depend on the genetic diversity of the population, and the traits of the genotypes present in the population. Here, I assess the response a dominant C4 tallgrass population to novel environmental conditions resulting from forecast climate change by studying whether more variable precipitation patterns affect the genetic diversity of Andropogon gerardii. I then investigate the potential mechanisms driving the observed response. Ultimately, the way in which population genetic diversity is affected by more variable precipitation patterns will shed insight into how this important species will adapt to future climate change. First, I developed the tools to study the genetic diversity of A. gerardii at the plant neighborhood scale, the scale at which individuals compete for resources. I designed amplified fragment length polymorphism primers for A. gerardii and determined the appropriate scale at which to sample individuals to accurately capture genetic diversity. I also examined how genetic diversity is measured in ecological studies by comparing genotype-based measures and genome-based measures of diversity. Ultimately, I argue that genome-based measures should be included in future studies alongside genotypic-based measures because they capture a greater spectrum of genetic differences among individuals. Next, using what I established for studying genetic diversity, I examined how a decade of altered precipitation patterns affected the genetic diversity of A. gerardii. To do this I worked within the Rainfall Manipulation Plots (RaMPs) experiment at Konza Prairie Biological Station in Kansas, which experimentally imposes ambient and more variable precipitation patterns. After ten years of experimentally increased intra-annual variability in growing season precipitation regimes, I report that the number of genotypes of the dominant C4 grass, Andropogon gerardii Vitman, has been significantly reduced in native tallgrass prairie compared with unmanipulated prairie. However, individuals showed a different pattern of genomic similarity with increased precipitation variability – there was greater genome dissimilarity among individuals when compared to unmanipulated prairie. In my next two chapters, I aim to understand the mechanism that drove the observed shift in genetic diversity. First, I studied phenotypic differences among six common genotypes of Andropogon gerardii across three different environmental conditions to study genotype × environmental interactions. I consistently detected differences among the focal genotypes for all traits measured across environmental treatments, however, I observed no genotype × year interactions, and phenotypic differences among genotypes were diminished within environmental conditions. To assess potential mechanisms underlying the changes observed in population structure of this species, I continued to study five of the same genotypes, three of which had greater abundances or were only present in plots receiving more variable rainfall patterns. In a greenhouse study, I investigated how both changes in the size and variability of watering events affected ecophysiological, growth, biomass allocation and fitness traits. I found genotype × water amount interactions for traits related to leaf level physiology and biomass allocation; genotypes that performed better under low soil moisture conditions were outperformed by other genotypes under high soil moisture conditions. For the three genotypes that had greater abundance in plots that received a decade of altered rainfall regimes, I found evidence of phenotypic trait divergence as well as greater plasticity for ecophysiological traits. Lastly, I investigated correlations between species and genetic diversity in tallgrass prairie across an experimental manipulation of soil moisture. I found species and genetic diversity were not correlated, and that genotypic richness was negatively related to soil moisture variability, but measures of species diversity were not related to soil moisture. My results suggest that a lack relationship between species and genetic diversity at the populations scale could be because species and genetic diversity are responding differently to environmental resources. Ultimately, my dissertation is an in-depth examination of how environmental conditions affect the genetic diversity of a dominant species. I found that for genetically diverse species, such as dominant species, microevolution might be an important aspect of adaptation to novel environmental conditions experienced with climate change.