, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 42–52 | Cite as

Genotypic variation in drought response of silver birch (Betula pendula Roth): leaf and root morphology and carbon partitioning

  • Stella Aspelmeier
  • Christoph Leuschner
Original Article


This study investigates the drought response of four genotypes of Betula pendula with a focus on leaf and root morphological traits, leaf phenology and carbon partitioning between shoot and root. Potted one-year-old clonal plants of four genotypes from regions with low to high annual rainfall (550–1270 mm year−1) were subjected to drought periods of 12–14 weeks in two subsequent years. Well-watered control plants of the four genotypes differed significantly with respect to total leaf area per plant (LA) and specific leaf area (SLA), whereas differences in total fine root surface area (RA), root specific area (SRA), and the fine root:leaf mass ratio (FR:LM) were not significant. Highest LA and SLA were found in the clone originating from the driest environment. In complementary physiological investigations this clone was found to have the highest water use as well which was interpreted as competitive superiority in terms of water consumption. Drought resulted in an increase in SLA in all genotypes, and a decrease in LA. Leaf area reduction was more pronounced in the genotypes from high than in those from low rainfall origin. The ratio of total root to leaf surfaces remained more or less constant after drought application despite an increase in FR:LM. This is explained by a decrease in SRA resulting from a reduced abundance of very small fine rootlets (diameter <0.2 mm) in the drought-treated plants. The loss in total root surface area due to a reduction in finest root mass was compensated for by a relative increase in total root dry mass per plant. Comparison of results from the first and second drought period indicated a marked influence of timing of drought, root system size, and putative root limitation on plant drought response. We conclude that leaf and root morphology, the total leaf and root surfaces, and the morphological response to drought in birch are to a large extent under genetic control.


Drought stress Genotypic variation Leaf morphology Root morphology Root:shoot ratio 



We gratefully acknowledge the financial support by the German Science Foundation (DFG) offered by a grant to C.L.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.GöttingenGermany
  2. 2.Plant Ecology Albrecht-von-Haller-Institute for Plant SciencesUniversity of GöttingenGöttingenGermany

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