Secondary metabolites have more influence than morpho‐physiological traits on litter decomposability across genotypes of Arabidopsis thaliana

New Phytologist 2019

Elena Kazakou, François Vasseur, Kevin Sartori, Etienne Baron, Nick Rowe, Denis Vile

Although interspecific variation in plant phenotype is recognised to impact afterlife processes such as litter decomposability, it is still unclear which traits and selection pressures explain these relationships. Examining intraspecific variation is crucial to identify and compare trait effects on decomposability, and investigate the potential role of natural selection.

We studied the genetic variability and relationships between decomposability, plant traits typically related to decomposability at species level (morphophysiological traits), and leaf metabolites among a set of genotypes of Arabidopsis thaliana grown under controlled conditions. We also investigated correlations between decomposability and environmental variables at genotypes collection site. We investigated the genetic architecture of decomposability with genome‐wide association studies (GWAS).

There was large genetic variability in decomposability that was correlated with precipitation. Morphophysiological traits had a minor effect, while secondary metabolites, especially glucosinolates, were correlated with decomposability. Consistently, GWAS suggested that genes and metabolites related to the composition of cell membranes and envelopes control the variation of decomposability across genotypes.

Our study suggests that decomposability varies within species as a result of metabolic adaptation to climate. Our findings highlight that subtle variations of defence‐related metabolites like glucosinolates may strongly influence after‐life processes such as decomposability.

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