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Intrapopulation genotypic variation in leaf litter chemistry does not control microbial abundance and litter mass loss in silver birch, Betula pendula

Silfver, Tarja, Kontro, Merja, Paaso, Ulla, Karvinen, Heini, Keski-Saari, Sarita, Keinänen, Markku, Rousi, Matti, Mikola, Juha
Plant and soil 2018 v.426 no.1-2 pp. 253-266
Betula pendula, DNA, chemistry, forests, fungi, genetic variation, genotype, leaves, natural selection, phenolic compounds, plant litter, secondary metabolites, trees, triterpenoids, Finland
BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Differences among plant genotypes can influence ecosystem functioning such as the rate of litter decomposition. Little is known, however, of the strength of genotypic links between litter quality, microbial abundance and litter decomposition within plant populations, or the likelihood that these processes are driven by natural selection. METHODS: We used 19 Betula pendula genotypes randomly selected from a local population in south-eastern Finland to establish a long-term, 35-month litter decomposition trial on forest ground. We analysed the effect of litter quality (N, phenolics and triterpenoids) of senescent leaves and decomposed litter on microbial abundance and litter mass loss. RESULTS: We found that while litter quality and mass loss both had significant genotypic variation, the genotypic variation among silver birch trees in the quantity of bacterial and fungal DNA was marginal. In addition, although the quantity of bacterial DNA at individual tree level was negatively associated with most secondary metabolites of litter and positively with litter N, litter chemistry was not genotypically linked to litter mass loss. CONCLUSIONS: Contrary to our expectations, these results suggest that natural selection may have limited influence on overall microbial DNA and litter decomposition rate in B. pendula populations by reworking the genetically controlled foliage chemistry of these populations.