Genetic divergence along a climate gradient shapes chemical plasticity of a foundation tree species to both changing climate and herbivore damage

Michael Eisenring, Rebecca J. Best, Mark R. Zierden, Hillary F. Cooper, Madelyn A. Norstrem, Thomas G. Whitham, Kevin Grady, Gerard J. Allan, Richard L. Lindroth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


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 leaf nitrogen. (2) For both defense and structural compounds, plastic responses to different garden climates depended on the climate in which a population or genotype originated. Specifically, trees originating from cool provenances showed higher defense plasticity in response to climate changes than trees from warmer provenances. (3) Trees from cool provenances growing in cool garden conditions expressed the lowest constitutive defense levels but the strongest induced (plastic) defenses in response to damage. (4) The combination of hot garden conditions and simulated herbivory switched the strategy used by these genotypes, increasing constitutive defenses but erasing the capacity for induction after damage. Because Fremont cottonwood chemistry plays a major role in shaping riparian communities and ecosystems, 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4684-4700
Number of pages17
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number15
StatePublished - Aug 2022


  • climate change
  • common garden
  • environmental stress
  • functional traits
  • herbivory
  • intraspecific variation
  • phenotypic plasticity
  • riparian ecosystem

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • General Environmental Science


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