PLoS ONE (Jan 2015)

Where is the extended phenotype in the wild? The community composition of arthropods on mature oak trees does not depend on the oak genotype.

  • Martin M Gossner,
  • Martin Brändle,
  • Roland Brandl,
  • Johannes Bail,
  • Jörg Müller,
  • Lars Opgenoorth

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 10, no. 1
p. e0115733


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Through a series of common garden experiments, it has been shown that heritable phenotypic differences between individual trees can affect arthropod communities. However, field studies under heterogeneous environmental conditions remain rare. In the present study, we investigated the genetic constitution of 121 mature oak host trees at different trophic levels from 10 sites across Bavaria, southern Germany and their associated insect communities. A total of 23,576 individuals representing 395 species of beetles and true bugs were evaluated. In particular, we determined whether the composition of arthropod communities is related to the oak genotype and whether the strength of the relationships decreases from lower to higher trophic levels, such as for phytophagous, xylophagous, zoophagous, and mycetophagous species. The genetic differentiation of oaks was assessed using eight microsatellite markers. We found no significant influence of the oak genotype on neither the full beetle and true bug community nor on any of the analyzed trophic guilds. In contrast, the community composition of the insects was highly related to the space and climate, such that the community similarity decreased with increases in spatial distance and climatic differences. The relationship with space and climate was much stronger in beetles than in true bugs, particularly in mycetophagous species. Our results suggest that spatial processes override the genetic effects of the host plant in structuring arthropod communities on oak trees. Because we used neutral markers, we cannot exclude the possibility that trait-specific markers may reveal a genetic imprint of the foundation tree species on the composition of the arthropod community. However, based on the strength of the spatial patterns in our data set, we assume that genetic differences among oaks are less important in the structuring of arthropod communities. Future whole-genome studies are required to draw a final conclusion.