Assessing internal epicormic dynamics in Quercus alba L. using CT scanning: the strong effects of shoot development and tree growth relative to progeny level genetic variation
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- Meier, A. & Saunders, M.R. Trees (2013) 27: 865. doi:10.1007/s00468-013-0840-x
Epicormic branches can be a serious silvicultural problem in many Quercus species because of the potential reduction in log value associated with their occurrence. The phenomenon is also problematic for tree improvement since the genetic component of epicormic branching has not been well quantified. The strong influence of ontogeny on epicormic development in Quercus is well established; however, the long-standing assumption that genetic variation also influences epicormics has not been rigorously tested. With trees from two, 25-year-old Quercus alba L. progeny tests in IN, USA, we used computed tomography scanning to characterize internal epicormic development. We sampled trees from upper and lower crown classes of families that had been classified as having low, medium and high numbers of epicormic sprouts. We also measured an array of variables related to growth and competition with the objective of assessing the relative impacts of genetics and vigor on epicormic development. Using generalized linear and linear mixed models, we found that ontogenetic and vigor variables were strongly associated with epicormic structure and development, and that the genetic effect was negligible. The total number of epicormics was most significantly influenced by the number of sequential branches that bore epicormics (p < 0.001) and the proportion of undeveloped epicormics was most significantly influenced by diameter increment (p < 0.001). We propose that a strong focus on individual tree vigor and form in tree improvement could minimize the impact of epicormic branching in Q. alba trees.