Plant defense phenotypes determine the consequences of volatile emission for individuals and neighbors.

PMID 25873033


Plants are at the trophic base of terrestrial ecosystems, and the diversity of plant species in an ecosystem is a principle determinant of community structure. This may arise from diverse functional traits among species. In fact, genetic diversity within species can have similarly large effects. However, studies of intraspecific genetic diversity have used genotypes varying in several complex traits, obscuring the specific phenotypic variation responsible for community-level effects. Using lines of the wild tobacco Nicotiana attenuata genetically altered in specific well-characterized defense traits and planted into experimental populations in their native habitat, we investigated community-level effects of trait diversity in populations of otherwise isogenic plants. We conclude that the frequency of defense traits in a population can determine the outcomes of these traits for individuals. Furthermore, our results suggest that some ecosystem-level services afforded by genetically diverse plant populations could be recaptured in intensive monocultures engineered to be functionally diverse.