, Volume 123, Issue 2, pp 168-174

Geographic pattern of genetic variation in photosynthetic capacity and growth in two hardwood species from British Columbia

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Geographic patterns of intraspecific variations in traits related to photosynthesis and biomass were examined in two separate common garden experiments using seed collected from 26 Sitka alder (Alnus sinuata Rydb.) and 18 paper birch (Betula papyrifera Marsh.) populations from climatically diverse locations in British Columbia, Canada. Exchange rates of carbon dioxide and water vapour were measured on 2-year-old seedlings to determine the maximum net instantaneous photosynthetic rate, mesophyll conductance, stomatal conductance, and photosynthetic water use efficiency. Height, stem diameter, root and shoot dry mass and fall frost hardiness data were also obtained. Mean population maximum photosynthetic rate ranged from 10.35 to 14.57 µmol CO2 m–2 s–1 in Sitka alder and from 14.76 to 17.55 µmol CO2 m–2 s–1 in paper birch. Based on canonical correlation analyses, populations from locations with colder winters and shorter (but not necessarily cooler) summers had higher maximum photosynthetic rates implying the existence of an inverse relationship between leaf longevity and photosynthetic capacity. Significant canonical variates based on climatic variables derived for the seed collection sites explained 58% and 41% of variation in the rate of photosynthesis in Sitka alder and paper birch, respectively. Since growing season length is reflected in date of frost hardiness development, an intrinsic relationship was found between photosynthetic capacity and the level of fall frost hardiness. The correlation was particularly strong for paper birch (r=–0.77) and less strong for Sitka alder (r=–0.60). Mean population biomass accumulation decreased with increased climate coldness. These patterns may be consequential for evaluation of the impact of climate change and extension of the growing season on plant communities.

Received: 12 July 1999 / Accepted: 24 November 1999