Genotypic diversity of a dominant C4 grass across a long-term fire frequency gradient

TitleGenotypic diversity of a dominant C4 grass across a long-term fire frequency gradient
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsChang, CC, Smith, MD
JournalJournal of Plant Ecology
Pagination448 -458
Accession NumberKNZ001658
KeywordsAndropogon gerardii, disturbance frequency, genetic relatedness, genetic-species diversity relationship, genotype richness, intermediate disturbance hypothesis, productivity, tallgrass prairie

Aims and Methods Diversity-disturbance research has focused on community diversity, but disturbance frequency could impact diversity within species as well, with important consequences for community diversity and ecosystem function. We examined patterns of genetic diversity of a dominant grass species, Andropogon gerardii, in native North American tallgrass prairie sites located in eastern Kansas that have been subjected to a gradient of fire frequency treatments (burned every 1, 2, 4 or 20 years) since the 1970s. In addition, we were able to assess the relationships between genetic diversity of A. gerardii, species diversity and productivity across this range of fire frequencies. Important Findings We found no significant relationships between genetic diversity of A. gerardii at the local scale (1 m2 plot level) and disturbance frequency (burned 2 to 32 times over a 38-year period). However, at the site level (i.e. across all plots sampled within a site, ~100 m2) there were differences in genotype richness and composition, as well as genomic dissimilarity among individuals of A. gerardii. Genotype richness was greatest for the site burned at an intermediate (4-year) frequency and lowest for the infrequently (20-year) burned site. In addition, genotypes found in the frequently burned sites were more similar from each other than expected by random chance than those found in the infrequently burned sites. Genotype composition of A. gerardii was not significantly different between the frequently burned sites (annual vs. 2 year) but did differ between frequently burned and infrequently burned sites (1 and 2 year vs. 4 and 20 year, etc.). Together, these results suggest site-level ecological sorting of genotypes in intact prairie across a broad gradient of disturbance frequencies, likely driven by alterations in environmental conditions. Frequent fire promotes the abundance of dominant grass species, reduces plant community diversity and impacts ecosystem processes such as productivity. Our study suggests that genetic diversity within dominant grass species also may be affected by disturbance frequency, which could have important implications for how species are able to respond to disturbance.