Heterozygosity, gender, and the growth-defense trade-off in quaking aspen

Christopher T. Cole, Michael T. Stevens, Jon E. Anderson, Richard L. Lindroth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Although plant growth is generally recognized to be influenced by allocation to defense, genetic background (e.g., inbreeding), and gender, rarely have those factors been addressed collectively. In quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.), phenolic glycosides (PGs) and condensed tannins (CTs) constitute up to 30 % of leaf dry weight. To quantify the allocation cost of this chemical defense, we measured growth, defense chemistry, and individual heterozygosity (Hobs at 16 microsatellite loci) for male and female trees in both controlled and natural environments. The controlled environment consisted of 12 juvenile genets grown for 3 years in a common garden, with replication. The natural environment consisted of 51 mature genets in wild populations, from which we sampled multiple ramets (trees) per genet. Concentrations of PGs and CTs were negatively correlated. PGs were uncorrelated with growth, but CT production represented a major cost. Across the range of CT levels found in wild-grown trees, growth rates varied by 2.6-fold, such that a 10 % increase in CT concentration occurred with a 38.5 % decrease in growth. Hobs had a marked effect on aspen growth: for wild trees, a 10 % increase in Hobs corresponded to a 12.5 % increase in growth. In wild trees, this CT effect was significant only in females, in which reproduction seems to exacerbate the cost of defense, while the Hobs effect was significant only in males. Despite the lower growth rate of low-Hobs trees, their higher CT levels may improve survival, which could account for the deficit of heterozygotes repeatedly found in natural aspen populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)381-390
Number of pages10
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Chris Habeck and Evy Rodne-Cole (field work), Daniel Schlatter (tree ring measurements), and numerous research assistants who micropropagated and tended the common garden trees. Heidi Barnhill, Brian Rehill, Adam Gusse, and Lisa Jordan assisted with the chemical analyses. Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation (Grants DEB-0074427, DEB-0841609, and DEB-1456592), Environmental Protection Agency, and the University of Minnesota sabbatical supplement and Morris Academic Partners programs.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.


  • Allocation cost
  • Condensed tannin
  • Heterozygote advantage
  • Phenolic glycoside
  • Phenylpropanoid pathway


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