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Open AccessArticle

Tree Water Use, Water Use Efficiency, and Carbon Isotope Discrimination in Relation to Growth Potential in Populus deltoides and Hybrids under Field Conditions

1
USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station, RTP, NC 27709, USA
2
Department of Forestry & Environmental Resources, NC State University, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Forests 2019, 10(11), 993; https://doi.org/10.3390/f10110993
Received: 26 September 2019 / Revised: 18 October 2019 / Accepted: 30 October 2019 / Published: 6 November 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Physiology of Tree Response to Drought)
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.
Keywords: poplar (Populus); hybrid; water-use efficiency; sap flow; productivity; carbon isotope discrimination; stomatal conductance poplar (Populus); hybrid; water-use efficiency; sap flow; productivity; carbon isotope discrimination; stomatal conductance
MDPI and ACS Style

Maier, C.A.; Burley, J.; Cook, R.; Ghezehei, S.B.; Hazel, D.W.; Nichols, E.G. Tree Water Use, Water Use Efficiency, and Carbon Isotope Discrimination in Relation to Growth Potential in Populus deltoides and Hybrids under Field Conditions. Forests 2019, 10, 993.

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