Genetic variation increases food-web complexity
What is it about?
Insects, plants, and their feeding interactions form food webs that regulate much of Earth’s biodiversity. Using a common garden experiment, quantitative genetics, and a computer simulation, we discovered that different plant genotypes supported unique food chains of insect species, resulting in a 20% increase in food-web complexity over the range of genetic variation in the plant population. This novel result was due to the direct and indirect effects of genetic variation in leaf carbon-to-nitrogen ratio, leaf phenolic chemistry, and plant size on insect food chains.
Why is it important?
We provide the first evidence that genetic variation within species is capable of increasing food-web complexity. Given that food-web complexity is known to buffer food webs when they are disturbed, this work puts us in a position to predict how processes that alter genetic variation within a population (e.g. natural selection, genetic drift, gene flow, and mutation) will affect the structure, and in turn resilience of food webs to future environmental change.
The following have contributed to this page: Dr Matt Barbour and Dr. Miguel A Fortuna
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