, Volume 139, Issue 2, pp 288–297 | Cite as

Ecosystem implications of genetic variation in water-use of a dominant riparian tree

  • D. G. FischerEmail author
  • S. C. Hart
  • T. G. Whitham
  • G. D. Martinsen
  • P. Keim
Ecosystem Ecology


Genetic variation in dominant species can affect plant and ecosystem functions in natural systems through multiple pathways. Our study focuses on how genetic variation in a dominant riparian tree (Populus fremontii, P. angustifolia and their natural F1 and backcross hybrids) affects whole-tree water use, and its potential ecosystem implications. Three major patterns were found. First, in a 12-year-old common garden with trees of known genetic makeup, hybrids had elevated daily integrated leaf-specific transpiration (E tl ; P=0.013) and average canopy conductance (G c ; P=0.037), with both E tl and G c ~30% higher in hybrid cross types than parental types. Second, δ13C values of leaves from these same trees were significantly more negative in hybrids (P=0.004), and backcross hybrids had significantly more negative values than all other F1 hybrid and parental types (P <0.001). Third, in the wild, a similar pattern was found in leaf δ13C values where both hybrid cross types had the lowest values (P <0.001) and backcross hybrids had lower δ13C values than any other tree type (P <0.001). Our findings have two important implications: (1) the existence of a consistent genetic difference in whole-tree physiology suggests that whole-tree gas and water exchange could be another pathway through which genes could affect ecosystems; and (2) such studies are important because they seek to quantify the genetic variation that exists in basic physiological processes—such knowledge could ultimately place ecosystem studies within a genetic framework.


Extended phenotype Intrinsic water-use-efficiency Intraspecific genetic variation  Populus Sap flow 



We thank the Ogden Nature Center for supporting our common garden facilities, the Mill Creek Youth Center juvenile detention facility for helping logistically, and NSF grant #DEB-0078280 for financial support. We are very grateful to Richard Doucett for conducting our isotope analyses. We also thank Greg Cox, Jen Schweitzer, Carri LeRoy, Nathan Lojewski, Gina Wimp, A.J. Thompson, and the Hart and Whitham laboratories for field assistance and providing comments on earlier versions of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. G. Fischer
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • S. C. Hart
    • 1
    • 2
  • T. G. Whitham
    • 2
    • 3
  • G. D. Martinsen
    • 2
    • 3
  • P. Keim
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.School of ForestryNorthern Arizona UniversityFlagstaffUSA
  2. 2.Merriam-Powell Center for Environmental ResearchNorthern Arizona UniversityFlagstaffUSA
  3. 3.Department of Biological Sciences, Merriam-Powell Center for Environmental ResearchNorthern Arizona UniversityFlagstaffUSA

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