Genetic, morphological, and spectral characterization of relictual Niobrara River hybrid aspens (Populus × smithii)

Nicholas John Deacon, Jake Joseph Grossman, Anna Katharina Schweiger, Isabella Armour, Jeannine Cavender-Bares

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Abstract

PREMISE OF THE STUDY: Aspen groves along the Niobrara River in Nebraska have long been a biogeographic curiosity due to morphological differences from nearby remnant Populus tremuloides populations. Pleistocene hybridization between P. tremuloides and P. grandidentata has been proposed, but the nearest P. grandidentata populations are currently several hundred kilometers east. We tested the hybrid-origin hypothesis using genetic data and characterized putative hybrids phenotypically. METHODS: We compared nuclear microsatellite loci and chloroplast sequences of Niobrara River aspens to their putative parental species. Parental species and putative hybrids were also grown in a common garden for phenotypic comparison. On the common garden plants, we measured leaf morphological traits and leaf-level spectral reflectance profiles, from which chemical traits were derived. KEY RESULTS: The genetic composition of the three unique Niobrara aspen genotypes is consistent with the hybridization hypothesis and with maternal chloroplast inheritance from P. grandidentata. Leaf margin dentition and abaxial pubescence differentiated taxa, with the hybrids showing intermediate values. Spectral profiles allowed statistical separation of taxa in short-wave infrared wavelengths, with hybrids showing intermediate values, indicating that traits associated with internal structure of leaves and water absorption may vary among taxa. However, reflectance values in the visible region did not differentiate taxa, indicating that traits related to pigments are not differentiated. CONCLUSIONS: Both genetic and phenotypic results support the hypothesis of a hybrid origin for these genetically unique aspens. However, low genetic diversity and ongoing ecological and climatic threats to the hybrid taxon present a challenge for conservation of these relictual boreal communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1878-1890
Number of pages13
JournalAmerican journal of botany
Volume104
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2017

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Keywords

  • Clonal growth
  • Common garden
  • Hybridization
  • Nebraska
  • Niobrara river
  • Populus
  • Relictual communities
  • Salicaceae
  • Smith’s aspen
  • Spectra

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