Communities of kissing cousins may be at a disadvantage in the plant world, according to a study in this week’s issue of Science.
It is well known that having a number of different plant species in a field can help to promote insect diversity, boost the plants’ productivity and improve the overall ecological health of an area. Now it seems that genetic diversity within a species has similar effects. The findings could lead to better habitat restoration and agriculture.
Gregory Crutsinger, a graduate student at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, studied fields of goldenrod — a weedy perennial that can grow taller than 3 metres and produces clusters of yellow flowers. He first gathered a selection of genetically distinct plants, picking them from patches at least 100 metres apart. He then planted 63 plots of goldenrods in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in Tennessee. In some plots he planted only one genetic type, in others he grew a range of types.