Hybrid poplars are an important renewable forest resource known for their high productivity. At the same time, they are highly vulnerable to water stress. Identifying traits that can serve as indicators for growth performance remains an important task, particularly under field conditions. Understanding which trait combinations translate to improved productivity is key in order to satisfy the demand for poplar wood in an uncertain future climate. In this study, we compared hydraulic and leaf traits among five hybrid poplar clones at 10 plantations in central Alberta. We also assessed the variation of these traits between 2- to 3-year-old branches from the lower to mid-crown and current-year long shoots from the mid to upper crown. Our results showed that (1) hybrid poplars differed in key hydraulic parameters between branch type, (2) variation of hydraulic traits among clones was relatively large for some clones and less for others, and (3) strong relationships between measured hydraulic traits, such as vessel diameter, cavitation resistance, xylem-specific and leaf-specific conductivity and leaf area, were observed. Our results suggest that leaf size could serve as an additional screening tool when selecting for drought-tolerant genotypes in forest management and tree improvement programmes.
Keywords: boreal forest; cavitation; drought stress; forest management; leaf area; plant hydraulics; plasticity; poplar plantations; water transport.
© 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.