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Apple cultivar influences epiphyte diversity

New research published on how tree genetics can affect the biodiversity of associated communities.


In natural systems, extended phenotypes of trees can be important in determining the species composition and diversity of associated communities. Orchards are productive systems where trees dominate, and can be highly biodiverse, but few studies have considered the importance of tree genetic background in promoting associated biodiversity. We tested the effect of apple cultivar (plant genetic background) on the diversity and composition of the associated epiphytic bryophyte community across a total of seven cultivars in five productive East Anglian orchards where each orchard contained two cultivars. Data were collected from 617 individual trees, over 5 years. Species richness and community composition were significantly influenced by both orchard and cultivar. Differences among orchards explained 16% of the variation in bryophyte community data, while cultivar explained 4%. For 13 of the 41 bryophyte species recorded, apple cultivar was an important factor in explaining their distribution. While the effects of cultivar were small, we were able to detect them at multiple levels of analysis. We provide evidence that extended phenotypes act in productive as well as natural systems. With issues of food security ranking high on the international agenda, it is important to understand the impact of production regimes on associated biodiversity. Our results can inform mitigation of this potential conflict.

Paper available here:

Photos © Robin Stevenson

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