Read, Quentin D.
Hoban, Sean M.
Eppinga, Maarten B
Schweitzer, Jennifer A.
Bailey, Joseph K.

Accounting for the nested nature of genetic variation across levels of organization improves our understanding of biodiversity and community ecology

Date created
Recent work has demonstrated that the presence or abundance of specific genotypes, populations, species and phylogenetic clades may influence community and ecosystem properties such as resilience or productivity. Many ecological studies, however, use simple linear models to test for such relationships, including species identity as the predictor variable and some measured trait or function as the response variable without accounting for the nestedness of genetic variation across levels of organization. This omission may lead to incorrect inference about which source of variation influences community and ecosystem properties. Here, we explicitly compare this common approach to alternative ways of modeling variation in trait data, using simulated trait data and empirical results of common-garden trials using multiple levels of genetic variation within Eucalyptus, Populus and Picea. We show that: 1) when nested variation is ignored, an incorrect conclusion of species effect is drawn in up to 20% of cases 2) overestimation of the species effect increases -- up to 60% in some scenarios -- as the nested term explains more of the variation and 3) the sample sizes needed to overcome these potential problems associated with aggregating nested hierarchical variation may be impractically large. In common?garden trials, incorporating nested models increased explanatory power twofold for mammal browsing rate in Eucalyptus, threefold for leaf area in Populus, and tenfold for branch number in Picea. Thoroughly measuring intraspecific variation and characterizing hierarchical genetic variation beyond the species level has implications for developing more robust theory in community ecology, managing invaded natural systems, and improving inference in biodiversity-ecosystem functioning research. Synthesis Until recently, ecologists acknowledged the ubiquity of within-species trait variation, but paid scant attention to how much it affects communities and ecosystems. Here, the authors used simulated trait data and common?garden studies to demonstrate that we ignore intraspecific trait variation at our peril. In both simulated and experimental systems, in many cases ignoring intraspecific variation led to incorrect statistical inferences and inflated the effect size of species identity. This study shows that ecologists must characterize hierarchically nested genetic and phenotypic variation to fully understand the links between individual traits, community structure and ecosystem functioning.
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Volume, Issue, Page Number
125, 7, 895-904
Related Entities
Oikos (published by)