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Ecological and quantitative genetics of Populus tremuloides in western Canada Open Access


Other title
Populus tremuloides
adaptive traits
ecological genetics
quantitative genetics
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Ding, Chen
Supervisor and department
Hamann, Andreas (Renewable Resources)
Examining committee member and department
Macdonald, Ellen (Renewable Resources)
Hamann, Andreas (Renewable Resources)
Hacke, Uwe (Renewable Resources)
Brouard, Jean (Isabella Point Forestry Ltd.)
Landhaeuser, Simon (Renewable Resources)
Yang, Rong-Cai (Agriculture, Food and Nutritional Science)
Parker, William (Lakehead University)
Department of Renewable Resources
Forest Biology and Management
Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Aspen is a widespread forest tree of high economic and ecological importance in western Canada. The species has also been subject to tree improvement efforts over the past two decades to increase productivity of the forested land base. Successful selection and breeding programs rely on both accurate estimates of the expected genetic gain from selection for commercial traits as well as correlated responses of other traits that may be important for fitness. This thesis investigates geographic patterns of genetic variation observed in a reciprocal transplant experiment with 43 provenances and five sites across western Canada. In a second series of experiments, geographically restricted to Alberta, genetic parameters for growth and adaptive traits are assessed in ten progeny trials containing more than 30,000 trees with known pedigrees. The reciprocal transplant experiment revealed strong patterns of local suboptimality, with increases in productivity as a result of experimental longdistance transfers in northwest direction. For example, provenances moved 1,600 km northwest from Minnesota to central Alberta (a shift of 7° latitude to the north) produced almost twice the biomass of local sources. Increased growth was not associated with lower survival rates. Bud break in provenances transferred northwest generally occurred slightly later than in local sources, suggesting decreased risk of spring frost injury. Leaf abscission was later in provenances transferred in northwest direction, but they appeared to be very frost hardy, well ahead of very rare early fall frost events. A potential explanation for suboptimality is the longevity of aspen clones, where populations could be adapted to climates present during post-glacial recolonization. This hypothesis was explored with habitat reconstructions to the last glacial maximum, which indicated that western Canadian populations likely originated from eastern refugia. We conclude that observed suboptimality likely represents an adaptational lag and benefits in productivity outweigh potential risks iii associated with long-distance northward transfer of aspen planting stock under both current and projected future climate conditions. Progeny trials geographically limited to Alberta seed sources and planting sites revealed high within-population variation in both growth and adaptive traits that was not strongly associated with climatic or geographic variables. Heritabilities for growth and adaptive traits were low to moderate, but progeny trials revealed strong genetic correlations between growth and phenology, with tall trees and high survival being associated with early budbreak and late leaf abscission, which mirrors the results from the provenance trial series across western Canada. While genetic gains in growth traits will be due to expanding the growing season, the increased risk of frost damage in spring and fall does not appear a critical issue, particularly under projected climate warming.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
Citation for previous publication
Schreiber, S.G., Ding, C., Hamann, A., Hacke, U.G., Thomas, B.R. and Brouard, J.S. 2013. Frost hardiness vs. growth performance in trembling aspen: an experimental test of assisted migration. Journal of Applied Ecology 50: 939–949.

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