Differences in spatial distribution, morphology, and communities of herbivorous insects among three cytotypes of Solidago altissima (Asteraceae)

Matthew L Richardson, Lawrence M Hanks
American Journal of Botany 2011, 98 (10): 1595-601

PREMISE OF THE STUDY: Polyploidy in plants can result in genetic isolation, ecological differences among cytotypes, and, ultimately, speciation. Cytotypes should be sympatric only if they are segregated in an ecological niche or through prezygotic isolation. We tested whether sympatric diploid, tetraploid, and hexaploid ramets of Solidago altissima L. (Asteraceae) differ in their ecological niche.

METHODS: We measured how cytotypes were distributed within habitats, their morphology, and the composition of their communities of herbivorous insects at 10 natural field sites. We also conducted a common garden experiment to confirm whether observed differences in morphology or communities of herbivores were due to cytotype or environmental effects.

KEY RESULTS: Diploid ramets often grew in open areas, relatively far from woody plants, and were associated with a high species richness of herbaceous plants, especially grasses. Hexaploids often grew in heavy shading under woody plants where grasses were scarce. Finally, tetraploids usually grew in transition areas between diploids and hexaploids. Hexaploid ramets also were taller than ramets of the other cytotypes and had larger leaves. Two species of insects, the leaf-galling fly Asteromyia carbonifera and the phloem-tapping aphid Uroleucon nigrotuberculatum, were more abundant on hexaploid ramets than on ramets of other cytotypes in the field. When grown in a common garden, however, cytotypes were similar in morphology and communities of herbivores.

CONCLUSIONS: We conclude that cytotypes of S. altissima differ in their spatial distribution within habitats and that spatial variation in environmental factors influence plant morphology and communities of herbivorous insects.

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