The ability of a plant population to respond and eventually adapt to environmental stress ultimately determines that population's survival. This becomes especially significant in environments where important plant resource levels have radically decreased. Southwestern riparian areas have numerous plant species that are experiencing radical changes in water availability due to construction of dams, and thus their ability to respond to such changes is critical. One such species likely to be greatly affected by these hydrological changes is Populus deltoides var. wislizenii (cottonwood) because it relies heavily on both groundwater and river surface volume as primary water sources. Both water sources have been extremely impacted by impoundments along southwestern rivers. To understand how New Mexico populations of cottonwood may respond to environmental changes, we quantified environmental differences and characterized physiological and morphological variation among 4 cottonwood populations. Significant differences among study sites in water availability were indicated by both soil and groundwater salinity. The northernmost site, at Abiquiu, had the highest salinity levels in both soil and groundwater, followed by Bernardo, while San Antonio and Corrales sites had the lowest soil salinity. As expected, variation in physiological and leaf morphological characters existed among and within the tree populations, most likely in response to environmental factors. Midday xylem pressure potentials indicated that Abiquiu individuals suffered the greatest water stress and they also had the highest transpiration levels. Because of high specific leaf weights and high photosynthetic levels, cottonwoods at Corrales may better mitigate lower water availability. Such physiological and morphological trait variability among populations is ecologically important and may be of use in present reclamation and conservation efforts in these areas.
Rowland, Diane L.; Beals, Lucille; Chaudhry, Amina A.; Evans, Ann S.; and Grodeska, Larry S.
"Physiological, morphological, and environmental variation among geographically isolated cottonwood (Populus deltoides) populations in New Mexico,"
Western North American Naturalist: Vol. 61
, Article 9.
Available at: http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/wnan/vol61/iss4/9