Aspen Bibliography

Genotypic Variation Rather Than Ploidy Level Determines Functional Trait Expression in a Foundation Tree Species in the Presence and Absence of Environmental Stress

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Annals of Botany


Oxford University Press

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  • Background and Aims At the population level, genetic diversity is a key determinant of a tree species’ capacity to cope with stress. However, little is known about the relative importance of the different components of genetic diversity for tree stress responses. We compared how two sources of genetic diversity, genotype and cytotype (i.e. differences in ploidy levels), influence growth, phytochemical and physiological traits of Populus tremuloides in the presence and absence of environmental stress.
  • Methods In a series of field studies, we first assessed variation in traits across diploid and triploid aspen genotypes from Utah and Wisconsin under non-stressed conditions. In two follow-up experiments, we exposed diploid and triploid aspen genotypes from Wisconsin to individual and interactive drought stress and defoliation treatments and quantified trait variations under stress.
  • Key Results We found that (1) tree growth and associated traits did not differ significantly between ploidy levels under non-stressed conditions. Instead, variation in tree growth and most other traits was driven by genotypic and population differences. (2) Genotypic differences were critical for explaining variation of most functional traits and their responses to stress. (3) Ploidy level played a subtle role in shaping traits and trait stress responses, as its influence was typically obscured by genotypic differences. (4) As an exception to the third conclusion, we showed that triploid trees expressed 17 % higher foliar defence (tremulacin) levels, 11 % higher photosynthesis levels and 23 % higher rubisco activity under well-watered conditions. Moreover, triploid trees displayed greater drought resilience than diploids as they produced 35 % more new tissue than diploids when recovering from drought stress.
  • Conclusion Although ploidy level can strongly influence the ecology of tree species, those effects may be relatively small in contrast to the effects of genotypic variation in highly diverse species.