Heterozygous trees rebound the fastest after felling by beavers to positively affect arthropod community diversity

Faith M. Walker, Rachel Durben, Stephen M. Shuster, Richard L. Lindroth, Thomas G. Whitham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Although genetic diversity within stands of trees is known to have community-level consequences, whether such effects are present at an even finer genetic scale is unknown. We examined the hypothesis that genetic variability (heterozygosity) within an individual plant would affect its dependent community, which adds a new dimension to the importance of genetic diversity. Our study contrasted foliar arthropod community diversity and microsatellite marker-derived measures of genetic diversity of cottonwood (Populus fremontii) trees that had been felled by beavers (Castor canadensis) and were resprouting, relative to adjacent standing, unfelled trees. Three patterns emerged: 1. Productivity (specific leaf area), phytochemical defenses (salicortin), and arthropod community richness, abundance, and diversity were positively correlated with the heterozygosity of individual felled trees, but not with that of unfelled trees; 2. These relationships were not explained by population substructure, genetic relatedness of the trees, or hybridization; 3. The underlying mechanism appears to be that beaver herbivory stimulates increased productivity (i.e., 2× increase from the most homozygous to the most heterozygous tree) that is the greatest in more heterozygous trees. Salicortin defenses in twigs were also expressed at higher concentrations in more heterozygous trees (i.e., 3× increase from the most homozygous to the most heterozygous tree), which suggests that this compound may dissuade further herbivory by beavers, as has been found for other mammalian herbivores. We suggest that high stress to trees as a consequence of felling reveals a heterozygosity– productivity linkage, which in turn is attractive to arthropods. Although experiments are required to demonstrate causality, these results link the genetic diversity of individual trees to community diversity, supporting the hypothesis that interactions among foundation species (beavers and trees) have community-level effects, and underscores the importance of genetic diversity for biodiversity, conservation, and restoration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number694
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • Arthropod diversity
  • Beaver herbivory
  • Individual multilocus heterozygosity
  • Populus fremontii

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry


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