Climate-driven local adaptation of ecophysiology and phenology in balsam poplar, Populus balsamifera L. (Salicaceae)

Stephen R. Keller, Raju Y. Soolanayakanahally, Robert D. Guy, Salim N. Silim, Matthew S. Olson, Peter Tiffin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

93 Scopus citations


Premise of the study: During past episodes of climate change, many plant species experienced large-scale range expansions. Expanding populations likely encountered strong selection as they colonized new environments. In this study we examine the extent to which populations of the widespread forest tree Populus balsamifera L. have become locally adapted as the species expanded into its current range since the last glaciation. Methods: We tested for adaptive variation in 13 ecophysiology and phenology traits on clonally propagated genotypes originating from a range-wide sample of 20 subpopulations. The hypothesis of local adaption was tested by comparing among-population variation at ecologically important traits(Q ST) to expected variation based on demographic history(F ST) estimated from a large set of nuclear single nucleotide polymorphism loci. Key results: Evidence for divergence in excess of neutral expectations was present for eight of 13 traits. Bud phenology, petiole length, and leaf nitrogen showed the greatest divergence(all Q ST > 0.6), whereas traits related to leaf water usage showed the least(all Q ST ≤ 0.30) and were not different from neutrality. Strong correlations were present between traits, geography, and climate, and they revealed a general pattern of northern subpopulations adapted to shorter, drier growing seasons compared with populations in the center or eastern regions of the range. Conclusions: Our study demonstrates pronounced adaptive variation in ecophysiology and phenology among balsam poplar populations. These results suggest that as this widespread forest tree species expanded its range since the end of the last glacial maximum, it evolved rapidly in response to geographically variable selection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)99-108
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican journal of botany
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011


  • Adaptation
  • Balsam poplar
  • Drift
  • Ecophysiology
  • F
  • Phenology
  • Populus balsamifera
  • Q
  • SNP
  • Selection


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