Balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera
L.) is a transcontinental tree species in North America, making it an ideal species to study intra-specific hybrid vigour as a tool for increasing genetic gain in growth. We tested the hypothesis that intra-specific breeding of disparate populations of balsam poplar would lead to the expression of hybrid vigour and we determined the role of endogenous hormones linked to ecophysiological and growth performance. In September 2009, three field trials were established in Canada (two in Alberta (AB), i.e., Fields AB1 and AB2, and one in Quebec (QC), i.e., Field QC1) in conjunction with Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries Inc. and the Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks, Quebec. Five male parents from each province as well as five female parents from QC and four female parents from AB were used for breeding intra-regional and inter-regional crosses. Based on a significant difference at year six for height and diameter, from the AB1 and AB2 field trials, the AB × QC cross-type was selected for further study. Cuttings from the AB × QC cross-type were grown in a randomized complete block design under near-optimal greenhouse conditions. Families were identified as slow- or fast-growing, and the relationship between hormone levels and growth performance of the genotypes within the families were examined. In late June, after 34 days of growth, internode tissue samples collected from each progeny were analyzed for gibberellic acids, indole-3-acetic acid, and abscisic acid content. Stem volume of two-month-old rooted cuttings, grown under optimal greenhouse conditions, was positively and significantly correlated with the photosynthetic rate, greenhouse growth, and stem volume of 8-year-old field-grown trees (Fields AB1 values: r = 0.629 and p
= 0.012; AB2 values: r = 0.619 and p
= 0.014, and QC1 values: r = 0.588 and p
= 0.021, respectively). We determined that disparate and native populations of balsam poplar can be bred to produce superior progeny with enhanced stem growth traits.
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