Tree genetics strongly affect forest productivity, but intraspecific diversity–productivity relationships do not

Dylan G. Fischer, Gina M. Wimp, Erika Hersch-Green, Randy K. Bangert, Carri J. LeRoy, Joseph K. Bailey, Jennifer A. Schweitzer, Clarissa Dirks, Stephen C. Hart, Gerard J. Allan, Thomas G. Whitham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Numerous studies have demonstrated biodiversity–productivity relationships in plant communities, and analogous genetic diversity–productivity studies using genotype mixtures of single species may show similar patterns. Alternatively, competing individuals among genotypes within a species are less likely to exhibit resource-use complementarity, even when they exhibit large differences in their effects on ecosystem function. In this study, we test the impact of genotype diversity and genetic identity on ecosystem function using an ecosystem-scale common garden experiment. Distinct tree genotypes were collected across the entire natural range of the riparian tree Populus fremontii in the USA, and grown in 1–16 genotype combination forest stands. Due to the warm climate and irrigation of the planting location along the Colorado River (AZ, USA), mature forest physiognomy with trees up to 19 m tall was achieved in just five years. Several key patterns emerged: (i) genotype richness did not predict forest productivity, suggesting a lack of net biodiversity effects; (ii) we found differences among genotype monoculture stands comparable to differences in average productivity across all forest biomes on Earth; (iii) productivity was predicted based on genetic marker similarity in trees; (iv) genetic-based differences in leaf phenology (early leaf-on and late leaf-fall timing) were correlated with >80% of the variation in tree and forest productivity irrespective of home-site conditions. Large differences in productivity among genotypes can result in dramatic differences in forest productivity without resulting in diversity–productivity relationships that are present in species-scale biodiversity studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)520-529
Number of pages10
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017


  • Populus
  • biodiversity–ecosystem function
  • cottonwood
  • genes-to-ecosystems
  • genotype diversity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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