We explored the relationship between tree growth, water use, and related hydraulic traits in Populus deltoides Bartr. ex Marsh.and hybrid clones, to examine potential trade-offs between growth and water use efficiency. Nine genotypes, six P. deltoides and three hybrid clones, that represented genotypes with high (Group H), intermediate (Group I), and low (Group L) growth performance were selected for study, based on year-two standing stem biomass in a replicated field trial. In year four, tree growth, transpiration (Et), canopy stomatal conductance (Gs), whole-tree hydraulic conductance (Gp), and carbon isotope discrimination (Δ13C) were measured. Tree sap flux was measured continuously using thermal dissipation probes. We hypothesized that Group H genotypes would have increased growth efficiency (GE), increased water use efficiency of production (WUEp, woody biomass growth/Et), lower Δ13C, and greater Gp than slower growing genotypes. Tree GE increased with relative growth rate (RGR), and mean GE in Group H was significantly greater than L, but not I. Tree WUEp ranged between 1.7 and 3.9 kg biomass m3 H2O−1, which increased with RGR. At similar levels of Et, WUEp was significantly greater in Group H (2.45 ± 0.20 kg m−3), compared to I (2.03 ± 0.18 kg m−3) or L (1.72 ± 0.23 kg m−3). Leaf and wood Δ13C scaled positively with stem biomass growth but was not correlated with WUEp. However, at a similar biomass increment, clones in Group H and I had significantly lower leaf Δ13C than Group L. Similarly, Group H clones had a significantly lower wood Δ13C than Group L, supporting our hypothesis of increased WUE in larger trees. Tree physiological and hydraulic traits partially explain differences in WUEp and Δ13C, and suggest that clone selection and management activities that increase tree biomass production will likely increase tree and stand WUE. However, more research is needed to discern the underlying hydraulic mechanisms responsible for the higher WUE exhibited by large trees and distinct clones.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited