A plant biodiversity effect resolved to a single chromosomal region

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Despite extensive evidence that biodiversity promotes plant community productivity, progress towards understanding the mechanistic basis of this effect remains slow, impeding the development of predictive ecological theory and agricultural applications. Here, we analysed non-additive interactions between genetically divergent Arabidopsis accessions in experimental plant communities. By combining methods from ecology and quantitative genetics, we identify a major effect locus at which allelic differences between individuals increase the above-ground productivity of communities. In experiments with near-isogenic lines, we show that this diversity effect acts independently of other genomic regions and can be resolved to a single region representing less than 0.3% of the genome. Using plant–soil feedback experiments, we also demonstrate that allelic diversity causes genotype-specific soil legacy responses in a consecutive growing period, even after the original community has disappeared. Our work thus suggests that positive diversity effects can be linked to single Mendelian factors, and that a range of complex community properties can have a simple cause. This may pave the way to novel breeding strategies, focusing on phenotypic properties that manifest themselves beyond isolated individuals; that is, at a higher level of biological organization.

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Fig. 1: Combining ecological concepts and genetic methods.
Fig. 2: Allelic diversity at a major effect locus increases community productivity.
Fig. 3: Resolving soil × allelic diversity interactions to a single Mendelian factor.
Fig. 4: Allelic diversity effects persist across a generation through their soil legacy.

Data availability

The datasets described in this paper and a functional annotation of the 86 genes within the fine-mapped diversity QTL are available through the Zenodo data repository (https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.1254563). Sequencing data are deposited in the NCBI Sequence Read Archive (accession SRP149077). Analysis scripts are available from the authors on request.


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We thank B. Schmid and U. Grossniklaus for helpful discussions and sharing infrastructure. We thank J. Bacompte and J. Weiner for helpful comments on the manuscript. We further acknowledge M. Philipp for technical support, E. De Luca and N. Ponta for help with plant measurements, and M. Furler and D. Topalovic for technical greenhouse support. This work was supported by an Ambizione Fellowship (PZ00P3_148223) of the Swiss National Science Foundation (to S.E.W.). P.A.N. acknowledges support from the University of Zurich Priority Program ‘Global Change and Biodiversity’. S.E.W. was also financially supported by funds from the University of Zurich and European Research Council (to U. Grossniklaus).

Author information

S.E.W. conceptualized and designed the research (with input from P.A.N.), and performed the experiments. Both authors performed the analyses and wrote the manuscript. Both authors revised and approved the final version of the manuscript.

Correspondence to Samuel E. Wuest.

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Supplementary Tables 1–2, Supplementary Figures 1–6, Supplementary Discussion and Supplementary References

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Wuest, S.E., Niklaus, P.A. A plant biodiversity effect resolved to a single chromosomal region. Nat Ecol Evol 2, 1933–1939 (2018) doi:10.1038/s41559-018-0708-y

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