Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Major Professor

Jennifer A Schweitzer

Committee Members

Joseph K. Bailey, Amy Johnson


Abiotic and biotic variation has been shown to be important in regulating nutrient cycling and belowground communities in natural systems. However, genetic variation in dominant plants as a driver of rates of nutrient cycling is still poorly understood and few studies have looked at genotype interactions across multiple environments. Using Populus angustifolia and a common garden approach, we hypothesized that all three factors: tree genetic variation, environmental conditions and genetic by environment (G x E) interactions would affect soil carbon (C) storage and nitrogen (N) cycling. Replicated copies of five different reciprocally planted Populus genotypes were studied in three separate 18-21 year old common gardens at different elevations (1300m, 1384m and 1587m) in northern Utah, to measure the genotype and environmental effects on pools of soil C and N as well as rates of soil net N nitrification and net mineralization. Our results indicate that genotypes influence pools of soil C, total N and C:N, but genotype did not influence net rates of nitrogen mineralization. Environmental variation significantly influenced pools of soil C, total N, soil C:N and rates of net nitrification and net N mineralization. As predicted, G x E interactions significantly influenced both pools and processes of soil C and N cycling. Overall, we found that genetic variation in plant traits (tree diameter and leaf/root chemistry) as well as soil texture across gardens were significant predictors of soil C and N pools and fluxes across seasons. These data help us understand the relative role of genotypic variation on above- and belowground interactions in different environments and the consequences of these interactions on ecosystem processes. The results from this study show that across an environmental gradient Populus angustifolia genotypes can influence nitrogen mineralization through feedbacks between environmental variation, tree phenotype and soils.

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