Rapid evolution of a coastal marsh ecosystem engineer in response to global change

Document Type



Final Published Version

Publication Title

Science of The Total Environment



Publication Date



There is increasing evidence that global change can alter ecosystems by eliciting rapid evolution of foundational plants capable of shaping vital attributes and processes. Here we describe results of a field-scale exposure experiment and multilocus assays illustrating that elevated CO2 (eCO2) and nitrogen (N) enrichment can result in rapid shifts in genetic and genotypic variation in Phragmites australis, an ecologically dominant plant that acts as an ecosystem engineer in coastal marshes worldwide. Compared to control treatments, genotypic diversity declined over three years of exposure, especially to N enrichment. The magnitude of loss also increased over time under conditions of N enrichment. Comparisons of genotype frequencies revealed that proportional abundances shifted with exposure to eCO2 and N in a manner consistent with expected responses to selection. Comparisons also revealed evidence of tradeoffs that constrained exposure responses, where any particular genotype responded favorably to one factor rather than to different factors or to combinations of factors. These findings challenge the prevailing view that plant-mediated ecosystem outcomes of global change are governed primarily by differences in species responses to shifting environmental pressures and highlight the value of accounting for organismal evolution in predictive models to improve forecasts of ecosystem responses to global change.



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0 International License.