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Comparative studies of the response of larch and birch seedlings from two origins to water deficit

Gao, Runmei, Shi, Xiaodong, Wang, Jian R.
N.Z. j. of For. Sci. 2017 v.47 no.1 pp. 14
Betula papyrifera, Betula pendula subsp. mandshurica, Larix gmelinii var. principis-rupprechtii, Larix laricina, biomass, chlorophyll, coasts, drought, dry matter partitioning, leaf abscission, leaf area, leaves, mountains, phenotypic plasticity, photosynthesis, physiological response, root crown, seedlings, soil quality, survival rate, transpiration, trees, water holding capacity, water use efficiency, Canada, China
BACKGROUND: Early developmental stages of plants are expected to be a major bottleneck to recruitment. Information on the response of seedling to anticipated water availability is urgently needed in regions where tree seedlings may experience more frequent water deficits. In this paper, we focused on the influence of water deficit on different species (larch vs. birch) and origins (xeric vs. mesic). METHODS: Prince Rupprecht’s larch (Larix gmelinii var. principis-rupprechtii (Mayr) Pilg.) and white birch (Betula platyphylla Sukaczev) from northern China were selected to represent the xeric origin. Eastern larch (Larix laricina (Du Roi) K. Koch) and paper birch (Betula papyrifera Marshall) from eastern Canada were selected to represent the mesic origin. For each species, half of seedlings were assigned to a well-watered treatment (WW, 75% water holding capacity (WHC) and the other half to a low-watered treatment (LW, 35% WHC). After 20 weeks of treatment, we collected data on morphological indexes of shoot height, root collar diameter, total leaf area and total root area; measured photosynthetic rate (A ₛₐₜ), transpiration rate (E), photosynthetic water-use efficiency (WUE) and apparent chlorophyll concentration (Chl); harvested seedlings and measured biomass allocation of leaf, stem and root. RESULTS: We found that reduced photosynthetic rate, transpiration rate and increased water-use efficiency were physiological responses of the four species to drought, and the responses varied among the species. All larch seedlings appeared no leaf shedding, survived through the drought treatment and showed a longer duration and high tolerance to drought. In low-watered conditions, survival rate, biomass, shoot height, root collar diameter, total leaf area, total root area and chlorophyll concentration of birch seedlings were significantly decreased. The response of seedlings to water deficits also differed according to the seed origins. Xeric origin of Prince Rupprecht’s larch was more affected than mesic origin of eastern larch, mainly because Prince Rupprecht’s larch originated in a narrower range of mountainous regions, resulting in lower adaptation of this species to water deficits, whereas eastern larch was distributed widely along coastal regions, contributing to higher phenotypic plasticity to variable soil conditions. Similarly, higher plasticity of paper birch may be responsible for its better performance in the low-watered treatment than white birch. CONCLUSIONS: Larch seedlings were less sensitive to water deficit than birch seedlings. Larch seedlings were characteristics of a conservative water-use strategy, whereas birch seedlings responded with a profligate water-use strategy. Plasticity or adaptation of seedlings outweighs the seed origins in determining their drought responses.