Benefits of conservation of plant genetic diversity to arthropod diversity

Randy K. Bangert, Richard J. Turek, Gregory D. Martinsen, Gina M. Wimp, Joseph K. Bailey, Thomas G. Whitham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


We argue that the genetic diversity of a dominant plant is important to the associated dependent community because dependent species such as herbivores are restricted to a subset of genotypes in the host-plant population. For plants that function as habitat, we predicted that greater genetic diversity in the plant population would be associated with greater diversity in the dependent arthropod community. Using naturally hybridizing cottonwoods (Populus spp.) in western North America as a model system, we tested the general hypothesis that arthropod alpha (within cross-type richness) and beta (among cross-type composition) diversities are correlated with cottonwood cross types from local to regional scales. In common garden experiments and field surveys, leaf-modifying arthropod richness was significantly greater on either the F 1 (1.54 times) or backcross (1.46 times) hybrid cross types than on the pure broadleaf cross type (P. deltoides Marshall or P. fremontii Watson). Composition was significantly different among three cross types of cottonwoods at all scales. Within a river system, cottonwood hybrid zones had 1.49 times greater richness than the broadleaf zone, and community composition was significantly different between each parental zone and the hybrid zone, demonstrating a hierarchical concentration of diversity. Overall, the habitats with the highest cottonwood cross-type diversity also had the highest arthropod diversity. These data show that the genetics of habitat is an important conservation concept and should be a component of conservation theory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)379-390
Number of pages12
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2005


  • Arthropod composition
  • Arthropod richness
  • Cottonwoods
  • Host-plant cross-type diversity
  • Natural hybrids
  • Populus spp.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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