Community genetics aims to understand the effects of intraspecific genetic variation on community composition and diversity, thereby connecting community ecology with evolutionary biology. Multiple studies have shown that different plant genotypes harbor different communities of associated organisms, such as insects. Yet, the mechanistic links that tie insect community composition to plant genetics are still not well understood. To shed light on these relationships, we explored variation in both plant traits (e.g., growth, phenology, defense) and herbivorous insect and ant communities on 328 replicated aspen (Populus tremuloides) genets grown in a common garden. We measured traits and visually surveyed insect communities annually in 2014 and 2015. We found that insect communities overall exhibited low heritability and were shaped primarily by relationships among key insects (i.e., aphids, ants, and free-feeders). Several tree traits affected insect communities and the presence/absence of species and functional groups. Of these traits, tree size and foliar phenology were the most important. Larger trees had denser (i.e., number of insects per unit tree size) and more diverse insect communities, while timing of bud break and bud set differentially influenced particular species and insect groups, especially leaf modifying insects. These findings will inform future research directed toward identification of plant genes and genetic regions that underlie the structure of associated insect communities.
ASJC Scopus subject areas