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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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  • Michael Eisenring,
  • Richard Lindroth,
  • Amy Flansburg,
  • Noreen Giezendanner,
  • Karen Mock,
  • Eric Kruger
Michael Eisenring
Swiss Federal Institute for Forest Snow and Landscape Research

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Richard Lindroth
University of Wisconsin
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Amy Flansburg
University of Wisconsin
Noreen Giezendanner
University of Wisconsin
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Karen Mock
Utah State University
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Eric Kruger
University of Wisconsin-Madison
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Background and AimsAt 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 nonstressed 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 nonstressed 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 of 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 minimally higher levels of foliar defenses, photosynthesis, and rubisco activity under well-watered conditions, and displayed slightly greater drought resilience than diploids.
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.