Climate change is threatening the persistence of many tree species via independent and interactive effects on abiotic and biotic conditions. In addition, changes in temperature, precipitation, and insect attacks can alter the traits of these trees, disrupting communities and ecosystems. For foundation species such as Populus, phytochemical traits are key mechanisms linking trees with their environment and are likely jointly determined by interactive effects of genetic divergence and variable environments throughout their geographic range. Using reciprocal Fremont cottonwood (Populus fremontii) common gardens along a steep climatic gradient, we explored how environment (garden climate and simulated herbivore damage) and genetics (tree provenance and genotype) affect both foliar chemical traits and the plasticity of these traits. We found that: 1) Constitutive and plastic chemical responses to changes in garden climate and damage varied among defense compounds, structural compounds and nitrogen. 2) For both defense and structural compounds, plastic responses to garden climate depended on the climate in which a population or genotype evolved. Specifically, trees originating from cool provenances showed higher defense plasticity in response to climate changes than trees from hotter provenances. 3) Trees from cool provenances growing in cool conditions expressed the lowest constitutive defense levels but the strongest induced (plastic) defenses. 4) The combination of hot growing conditions and simulated herbivory switched the strategy used by these genotypes, increasing constitutive defenses but erasing the capacity for induction. Because Fremont cottonwood chemistry plays a major role in shaping riparian communities and ecosystems in the southwestern US, the effects of changes in phytochemical traits can be wide-reaching. As the southwestern US is confronted with warming temperatures and insect outbreaks, these results improve our capacity to predict ecosystem consequences of climate change and inform selection of tree genotypes for conservation and restoration purposes.
|Date made available
|Dec 2 2022