Journal of Undergraduate Research


clonal integration, ramet development, quaking aspen


Life Sciences


Plant and Wildlife Sciences


Clonal plants are important contributors to natural environments and can have disproportionate effects on ecosystem function. In the mountain west, the clonal species Populus tremuloides (quaking aspen) is critical in helping to regulate ecosystem function; healthy aspen stands support a diverse group of plants and animals. Aspen are in decline across the west, due to climate change (increased drought), changing fire cycles, and increasing pressure from herbivores like deer and elk. Understanding the natural processes that enable aspen to survive and grow will help us protect aspen in the future. Clonality, or the ability to reproduce asexually through root suckering, is a hallmark trait of aspen that is not fully understood. Aspen can share nutrients between different trees (called ramets) in a clone through an interconnected root system. However, the degree of nutrient sharing, or clonal integration, may vary throughout the developmental stages of ramets. The relative importance of nutrient sharing at each developmental stage is unknown. In this study, we addressed the question of how nursing affects ramet development across different stages of development. We used physical separation of ramets to test the importance of the nursing effect in growth, mortality rate, and photosynthesis rate. Results show that clonal integration affects some – but not all – aspects of ramet health and the effects are dependent on ramet size.