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Adaptations of white spruce to climate: strong intraspecific differences in cold hardiness linked to survival

08 Jan 2018


Understanding local adaptation of tree populations to climate allows the development of assisted migration guidelines as a tool for forest managers to address climate change. Here, we study the relationship among climate, a wide range of physiological traits, and field performance of selected white spruce provenances originating from throughout the species range. Tree height, survival, cold hardiness, hydraulic, and wood anatomical traits were measured in a 32-year-old common garden trial, located in the center of the species range. Provenance performance included all combinations of high versus low survival and growth, with the most prevalent population differentiation for adaptive traits observed in cold hardiness. Cold hardiness showed a strong association with survival and was associated with cold winter temperatures at the site of seed origin. Tree height was mostly explained by the length of the growing season at the origin of the seed source. Although population differentiation was generally weak in wood anatomical and hydraulic traits, within-population variation was substantial in some traits, and a boundary analysis revealed that efficient water transport was associated with vulnerable xylem and low wood density, indicating that an optimal combination of high water transport efficiency and high cavitation resistance is not possible. Our results suggest that assisted migration prescriptions may be advantageous under warming climate, but pronounced trade-offs between survival and cold hardiness require a careful consideration of the distances of these transfers.

In this study, we study relationships between climate, a wide range of physiological traits, and field performance of selected white spruce provenances in a common garden. We observed a strong influence of fall hardiness in tree mortality while tree growth was mostly explained by growing season length. These results will help develop assisted migration prescriptions to mitigate the climate change impact in our forests.

Click here to view the full article which appeared in Ecology and Evolution

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