Genotypic and phenotypic variation as stress adaptations in temperate tree species: A review of several case studies

Marc David Abrams

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Species that occupy large geographic ranges or a variety of habitats within a limited area deal with contrasting environmental conditions by genotypic and phenotypic variation. My students and I have studied these forms of ecophysiological variation in temperate tree species in eastern North America by means of a series of field and greenhouse experiments, including controlled studies with Cercis canadensis L., Fraxinus pennsylvanica Marsh., Acer rubrum L., Prunus serotina Ehrh. and Quercus rubra L., in relation to drought stress. These studies have included measurements of gas exchange, tissue water relations and leaf morphology, and have identified genotypic variation at the biome and individual community levels. Xeric genotypes generally had higher net photosynthesis and leaf conductance and lower osmotic and water potentials at incipient wilting than mesic genotypes during drought. Xeric genotypes also produced leaves with greater thickness, leaf mass per area and stomatal density and smaller area than the mesic genotypes, suggesting general coordination among leaf morphology, gas exchange and tissue water relations. Leaf phenotypic plasticity to different light environments occurred in virtually every study species, which represented a wide array of ecological tolerances. In a study of interactions of genotypes with environment, shade plants, but not sun plants, exhibited osmotic adjustment during drought and shade plants had smaller reductions in photosynthesis with decreasing leaf water potential. In that study, sun, but not shade, plants had significant genotypic differences in leaf structure, but with certain variables phenotypic variation exceeded genotype variation. Thus, genotypic variation was not expressed in all phenotypes, and phenotypes responded differentially to stress. Overall, these studies indicate the importance of genotypic and phenotypic variation as stress adaptations in temperate tree species among both distant and nearby sites of contrasting environmental conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)833-842
Number of pages10
JournalTree Physiology
Issue number7-9
StatePublished - Jan 1 1994

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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