Community and ecosystem genetics is based on the idea that certain heritable traits are associated with entire communities and consequently, these genotypes are influencing ecosystem processes and structure. In the literature, community and ecosystem genetics is described as a field of study with applications in the areas of conservation and management.
For example, research conducted in Arizona on community and ecosystem genetics analyzed cottonwood trees, with a focus on the tannis produced by this tree species, to understand how this influenced the entirety of the community1. The researchers discovered that the tannis these trees produced influenced many ecosystem processes such as decomposition and nutrient cycling. Consequently, this influenced the soil quality and organisms found within it, which are prey to other species in the community. This research demonstrated that the genotype of the tannis does have an influence on the phenotype of the community and all of the organisms within it.
This field of research is very applicable to the current concern surrounding climate change and trying to understand how ecosystems will adapt to changing environmental factors such as increasing precipitation and temperature. Already climate change has been linked to morphological, physiological and behavioural changes in species and declines in population sizes. Adapting to climate change will require the creation of new traits which are expressed through genes. Genetic changes experienced by organisms to increase their chance of survival will have major influences on community dynamics and ecosystem services
Although completing research in this field of community and ecosystem genetics seems rather challenging, it is very useful for predicting how the natural world will respond to changes. Considering that entire ecosystems are controlled by genetics, there is hope that if given enough time, our communities will be able to adapt to changing climates and environmental conditions.
1. Northern Arizona University. (2005). Community Genetics, Heritability and Evolution: Consequences of Extended Phenotypes. Retrieved from http://cottonwood.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/fibr.html
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